Not just faceshots. Full on, can’t see a thing, Whiteroom.
Simultaneously both euphoric and terrifying when it happens in the trees.
Three feet of fresh fell on top of barely covered ground. The euphoria was tempered by the knowledge (understood and physically felt) that roots, rocks, and deadfall lie deep beneath the surface. Three feet was almost enough to bury it all over again.
But it is hard to care about what lies beneath when you can’t even see where you are skiing.
March was not quite a complete meltdown (it was no 2011-2012). But given the abnormally low snow base depths, it felt like the end was closer than it should have been (even during a bad year). My frustration with the lack of snow was compounded by unused vouchers. It was a race that I knew I was going to lose big time. I picked Smuggs to burn a voucher due to seeing some ungroomed trails (which I thought might mean spring bumps). Alas, my read of the snow report was not accurate.
I normally reserve my two Killington vouchers for either early or late season. But despite this only being the second week of March, it IS already the late season. Saturday was the pick up the weekend with projected low 50s but with a slight breeze. I gave Stowe and Sugarbush some consideration but ultimately I thought further south would be best for any possibility of good corn snow. In hindsight, there wasn’t going to be good snow anywhere this weekend, let alone good corn snow.
I arrived at Killington surprised by what I found: a resort still busy with guests (probably due to advanced booking and not being able to cancel). I was dumbfounded to see Snowshed and Ramshead bustling with activity and skiers. Given the conditions I skied today, it would be a safe assumption that those skiers did not have a good time.
I assumed lower elevation and southern facing Bear Mountain would be the best place to start so I ascended via Superstar and made my way south. Conditions were dismal and atrocious everywhere. Soft slush piles of pushed around snow alternated with frozen, scraped, and icy slides for life. I quickly got in the rhythm of skiing into the piles and making turns on top of the slushy mounds. But most beginner and intermediate skiers fought for dear life. These conditions were found on all trails including main beginner thoroughfares such as Great Eastern.
Last Saturday at Smuggs, I gazed across the notch at the Nose and marvelled that routes like Profanity, Hourglass, and Hellbrook were already long gone. The Mansfield summit usually looks more filled in by the end of December. I usually reserve my two Stowe vouchers for days when I can ski off the ridge. But those days are long gone this season, so I decided to pick the best spring skiing day possible instead.
I was hell bent on getting the full spring skiing experience. So I lathered up my arms and face with sunscreen and hiked up to the Forerunner in a short sleeved T-shirt. I was wearing the only short sleeved T-shirt to be seen at Stowe that day. Despite the base area pushing into the mid-50s causing a puddle of water in the loading area, the top of the mountain was in the 40s with a 20-30 MPH wind. The chairlift ride was mostly pleasant except coming over the final ridge. The brief unpleasant wind burst was well worth skiing without a jacket.
I started off skiing some groomers which were frozen despite the warm temperatures. I was dumbfounded at how bad the snow conditions were. Occasionally you could find soft snow and make an awesome carve. But on your next turn, you would find frozen groomer tracks or legit ice. It was mostly unpleasant skiing.
As with all other ski areas right now, the coverage at Smuggs looked more like early April than early March. Many natural snow trails were closed. Firm hard pack was found on the natural snow trails that were still open. In addition to firm hard pack, many natural snow trails and glades also sported ice flows. Not your typical “icy” conditions but genuine solid blue ice patches.
After a few warm up runs including some groomers followed by a scrapefest down Doc Dempsey’s, we decided to test the trees. Lower elevation trees were scraped, firm, and brushy. I was less than impressed but I had come to Smuggs to ski with some friends rather than to find good conditions. The other guys were interested in dropping off the backside of Sterling but I was quite concerned that we’d find suspect conditions or worse.
I guided our crew into some lower elevation off map woods to test out the tree skiing. We found thin coverage including rocks and stumps to avoid. But we also found some high quality snow and awesome turns. Surprisingly, the off map woods skied better than the limited amount of on map glades that were open. After reading everyone the riot act on how bad things might be, I led a smaller group off the backside expecting to find unpleasant but adventurous skiing.
Instead, we found the best skiing of the day. I picked the line that avoided stream beds and drainages and it worked out. It worked out so well, we opted to return for a second run immediately after the first. The last few hundred feet were thwacky and bitterly thin, ending with a horrendously unforgiving dump out onto 108. But the majority of the skiing was solid packed powder with ample coverage and quality turns.
Yet another day this season during which low expectations led to significant enjoyment.