Having only ever skied Mount Ellen during the late spring, my knowledge and experience of the mountain has been limited to the Summit Quad. This was a sad omission in my skiing experience which was in need of remedy. With untracked snow from last week’s storm long gone at resorts across northern Vermont and with SkiVT Cards to burn, I pointed my car towards Sugarbush in pursuit of those wonderfully short lived feelings of novelty inspired by the wonder and bewilderment of new discoveries.
Sugarbush reported in with all trails open. But the reality is that most trails are really not worth skiing. My agenda this morning was to work the Northridge trails in quick secession before exploring the woods. But indications on my first few runs were that the woods should not wait one more run longer.
Groomers were fast hard pack with occasional scraped and frozen groomer tracks. Bumps featured either frozen or grass troughs, variable back sides, and often quite firm and unforgiving lines. Every time I started skiing a bump trail such as Exterminator, Bravo, Hammerhead, Cliffs, Encore, or Tumbler, I found myself pointing the skis into the woods in short order.
The trees skied wonderfully. Even the well traveled on map trails that were hammered had better packed snow than the exposed bump runs. But the best snow was in the trees off the map. Despite this being my first time tree skiing at Mount Ellen, my tree skiing radar is finely tuned and I found great trees on every run simply by keeping my eyes glued to the sides of the trails for those tell tale signs that rarely can be masked.
Amazingly, I found six inches of completely untracked fresh in several locations. Even more amazingly, those locations were sometimes very obvious shots in plain sight. Generally though, tighter lines in the soft woods were challenging and very thinly covered, and already hit hard enough to take out of commission until the next storm. Mid-mountain hard woods was where it was at. Lower Mountain trees were variable and often very thin. Skiable but with a snow pack that is not entirely safe.
I was amazed at the options and found Mount Ellen far superior to Lincoln Peak for tree skiing. Due to being solo and finding tree conditions at lower mountain rather suspect (and even mid-mountain containing a variety of snow snake species), I played things more conservative than I had wanted and opted to not follow some tracks to far out. But suffice to say I got the lay of the land and should have enough leads to really kill the place on a powder day.
While hacking my way down a lower mountain drainage, I managed to bust open the core on my Dynastar Legend 8000s. While skiing with AT bindings, the dreaded “instant tele” feeling is always possible in Freerides. Going “instant tele” on alpine bindings is perhaps even more unnerving. You think your boot is just loose when your heel comes up more than it should. Perhaps a buckle popped open. And then you look down, in the middle of a sketchy drainage, and see the top sheet split open exposing the core. And then you say “oh shit.”
Fortunately, I had my Atuas in the car on backup duty. Without much powder and with a lot of bumps, they were unwieldy at best and dangerous at worst. So the remainder of my day was limited. I did take the Slidebrook Express back and forth both for the novelty of such an interesting lift and to get some beta on the Slidebrook area. Given my ski situation and the sketchy conditions down low, I opted not to explore on this visit. Gotta spread the novelty around a little bit lest I have nothing to look forward to next time.