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Day Tripper: My two-state pow-slaying spree 1/13/2010

polski

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This TR is gonna run long so I'd suggest you put some music on for background while you're reading. As I was starting my drive north Friday morning I randomly picked a CD out of the disc wallet and it was most of set 2 of the Grateful Dead at Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland ME, 3/31/1985 - a show I'm happy to say I'd attended. The set ended with the Dead's only East Coast performance ever of the Beatles' Day Tripper. (link is to an MP3 of a very sweet audience recording - crank it up!).

Day tripper, yeah - this turned out to be a pretty great day trip.

I live near Newburyport MA and consider a 3-hour drive one-way to be day-trip range. Given the snowfall patterns from this week's storm, among the destinations I was considering were Camden Snow Bowl in ME (which would have a couple natural-snow trails from the top opening Friday for the first time this season); skinning partway up Mt Washington and skiing the Sherbie in the a.m., then the afternoon at Black Mountain (where I have a voucher to burn); and old standbys Magic and MRG. I had some other ideas too ...

I was concerned that many places still would have a bony base on natural snow trails; I'm not afraid of thin cover but would rather not completely trash my skis. Most importantly, though, is I wanted as much untracked pow as possible, so other considerations included what had and had not been open Wed/Thurs and what kind of crowds might have hit it.

As I left the house around 6:15 a.m. I'd settled on Cannon. They were going to be spinning the Mittersill chair and while I know the thought of a chair there makes some cringe - and while I regret not having taken up any bc earlier in my life and thus not having skied Mittersill when it was "pure" - my consideration now is purely how to make the best of whatever the existing situation may be. Also I know Cannon to be about the easiest possible drive and I'd get there in plenty of time for first chair at Mittersill. (I know, "first chair at Mittersill" - again, sorry Steve :-( ).

While driving north on 93 I reflected on the report here that the Mittersill chair actually had started spinning around noon Thursday, meaning the area would be at least somewhat tracked out. I also thought about the reports of thin base/rocks/etc. And I worried that the fact the Mitty chair would be spinning could itself attract a crowd. I know there's a fair amount of terrain there, but still.

So as I approached Concord I mulled an alternative. I knew I wouldn't make first chair if I called this audible but since this was a sloppy-seconds day I didn't sweat that. I saw the sign that said "I-89 2 miles" and COULD NOT MAKE UP MY MIND ... Without thinking about it I found I was in the lane for the 89 exit and I took that as a sign.

To Vermont I would go.

Soon after I got on 89 flurries started falling. I took that as another sign. Meanwhile the Dead segued out of The Wheel into Playin' Reprise and then Day Tripper and the crowd went nuts and I was pretty pumped myself.

I approached the exit for 202/9, which I could've taken to get to Magic. I decided I wanted to ski somewhere I'd never been. Another time for Magic.

One thing I like about the drive up 89 to Vermont is passing Whaleback on the way up. I've never skied there but it's always nice to see in the early hours. Despite the ample snowfall this week they were blowing snow on one lower trail.



With Whaleback behind me I continued to my destination: Middlebury College Snow Bowl. I knew they'd gotten more than their share of snow since the New Year's thaw, with the western side of the Greens favored in these upslope events, and I think they reported 16" out of the big storm Wednesday. And I figured it couldn't have seen big crowds this week. Vert is 1050' which isn't overwhelming but I'd read good things about the terrain. Anyway, I'm more concerned about good pow turns than the most challenging possible terrain, though of course I'm happy to have both.

Another factor that I kind of liked was I didn't really know what to expect at Middlebury, aside from a healthy amount of snow. They don't give a lot of current info on their website so for all the research I'd done during and since the storm, I had no idea whether the place would be entirely groomed out or what. I tend to research destination decisions to an extreme so it was a little unusual to be heading to a place where I didn't have much more info than I would have in the pre-Internet days. Of course I could've just picked up the phone and called Middlebury, but noooooooo ...

btw, at this point I was listening to Pearl Jam 10/31/2009, last show ever by anyone at the Philly Spectrum. One of the great songs from that night:



OK, where was I? Oh yeah, I was a little lost. I took a wrong turn in Bethel VT and probably lost 15 minutes, but again, no worries. Once I belatedly turned on my Droid, GPS bailed me out, with a route over Rochester Gap, 2106' ASL. Then up 100 and west on 125, where there was a dusting of fresh snow on the road as I caught my first glimpse of the Snow Bowl:




It was about 9:45 a.m. and there were only around 40 cars in the lot.



He shoots! HE SCORES!

I booted up and bought my lift ticket - $30. I was a little bummed to learn the "backside" (Baileys Falls chair) was being saved for the weekend. Had I known that, would I have chosen Middlebury as my destination? Perhaps not.

And that would've been my loss.

Great low-key old-school New England vibe and crowding wasn't exactly a problem:


(Binaural Head getting ready to rip it up)





Many of the few skiers there in the morning were racers ...



... though mainly I show this photo to highlight RTN (I think that's the name), to skier's left of the race trail - it proved to be quite steep and ungroomed, very deep and eminently bashable.

The new triple is nice for being new and it's fixed-grip, which I like. And it takes an interesting route to the top, along the side of the mountain - the way the bottom drops out to the left reminded me of the Little Whiteface lift, which I last rode many moons ago. Great views to the left, too (though the only pics I have are with my ugly mug in it, so I'll spare you).


Not a great shot but you can see Pleiad Lake, right in the middle of the Snow Bowl.


And another view of winter wonderland:



The line under the triple is not on map but someone had hit it at some point since the big storm ... looks like it would be a blast:



And here's a chute into that liftline - again, not on map, though it sure looks like a maintained trail:



Interesting support structure on this tower ...



It was a stellar day on the available terrain. Most trails had been groomed but there was plenty of untracked or lightly chopped pow on the edges. There also were some moderate-angle woods that certainly were skiable, with some caution and keeping tips up. I skied nonstop for four hours and was completely dialed in by my second run - absolutely LOVE my 09/10 Gotamas in these conditions. Never got cold nor sweaty, boots adjusted just right - it was 100% game on and I felt I might just be skiing better than I ever have.

After a few runs off skier's left on the triple I decided to explore the other side. I wasn't sure what was open there because I knew the Bailey's Falls chair was not. I talked to a boarder there and got enough info on a route that should get me back to the base. Looking now at the trail map I see this was Voter and though it's a green it had plenty enough pitch for all the pow on the edges.

This led me to the old Poma double, a real throwback. Notice anything missing from the unload station?



The double only went about halfway up the mountain but was perfectly positioned for great freshies on trail edges and the Kelton glades, which had hardly been hit despite being plenty skiable. I lapped this plenty. This video is a little shaky but it'll give you an idea of the scene:



They had a lot more tracks through them by the time I was done. On one of these runs I found myself in a wide virgin area of knee-deep pow with no tracks in my field of vision ... what a rush.

Later I did encounter one snow serpent in woods off the triple but ended up with nothing more than a bruised shin.

Oh and there were flurries to light snow all day, not enough for more than a dusting but it added to the ambience. In fact the snow got a little heavier by 2 p.m. and I thought about staying to the closing bell. But I had another destination in mind - in fact, this was part of my original plan when I was assessing options the day before. I hoped it wouldn't displease Ullr that I would be leaving Middlebury early while the flakes were flying but I unbooted, got in the car, ate lunch while I was driving, headed back down 89 and went to ...

Whaleback. Yes they're open until 8 p.m. but I wanted to get there before dark so I could hit some unlighted runs before they got roped off.

First, music: The Mekons, Maxwell's (Hoboken NJ), 11/10/1993 - the right kind of rollicking fun for my approach to Whaleback.

I arrived around 3:30 to a nearly full parking lot and a mob scene in the lodge & base area - lots of local kids from school programs. Bought my lift ticket - had to wait in the cafeteria line for that (although I later found out they apparently sell tickets in the rental shop too) - and got out there. Oh yeah, $20 for the lift ticket so all told I spent $50 walk-up to hit two areas vs the $67 Cannon would have cost me.

Quite a different vibe from Middlebury but I liked Whaleback too for what it was. Not an idyllic setting with the constant sound of I-89 plus snowmaking in progress, but for a not real big hill (around 700' vert) there was some impressive terrain, with quite a bit of it ungroomed. I dig old double chairs and Whaleback's one and only chair is that. The ambience was of a local ski hill but it skied bigger than that (of course my main points of reference are Bradford and Nashoba, and Whaleback has a lot more vert than those).

As I first approached the chair there was a line a few minutes long but I did OK as a single. First run I hit Beluga Glades, short and with very widely spaced trees but pretty steep. Then a couple more woods shots lower down. More freshies! Second run was Jonah's Revenge, an ungroomed natural snow trail with substantial boot-deep untracked on the edges - plenty of bare spots too but Whaleback apparently pays a lot of attention to off-season grooming as the bare spots were mostly grass, very little rock. (I ended the day with no discernible damage to my bases.) Jawbone was another ungroomed run with freshies still to be found - a genuine black (though labeled double black here) and with lights so it was skiable at night.

As night fell some ropes went up but there was still plenty of fun to be had, mainly on Face, the wide & steep slope right under the chair. I like how the lighting is sparse, and again even where there were bare spots it was mostly grass and little rock. The chowder right under the chair was shin- to knee-deep in spots - lots of fun bashing that. And I still was dialed in, to the point that when at one point a kid on the chair yelled to me "Rip it DOOD!" I figured there was at least a 10% chance he wasn't mocking me.

My still camera battery died at Middlebury so all I have from Whaleback is some Flip footage and I haven't edited it yet. Here's one clip that should give you a pretty good sense of the conditions:



Another interesting thing was that Whaleback had snowmaking whales for a halfpipe and other large features but hadn't groomed them out yet, and there were deep stashes of untracked to be found on them. Unusual place to hit freshies but a lot of fun.

I put in a solid two hours here. From roughly 4 to 5 p.m. there were lift lines a few minutes long but as a single I had no wait. After that it was ski-on until I was done - as I finished my last run suddenly there was a line again and I realized it must've been 6 p.m. and people were starting the last-two-hours-for-$15 deal.

Another thing I'll say for Whaleback - on one lift ride I talked with someone who was chaperoning a school trip and he said that when it dumped Wednesday, Whaleback owner Evan Dyvbig sent an email to all the school groups telling everyone to come down and slay the pow for $10. THAT's the way to run a local ski area.

I'll definitely be back to both places. Perhaps in the same day.
 
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riverc0il

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Nice report! I had considered Middlebury for this weekend. Its on my list and I have a voucher. But I wanted to wait until they were 100% operational so I can get feel for the entire area.

Also I know Cannon to be about the easiest possible drive and I'd get there in plenty of time for first chair at Mittersill. (I know, "first chair at Mittersill" - again, sorry Steve :-( ).
No need to apologize. Despite whatever concerns I had regarding the chair's installation, I will use it if it suits my purposes and having that chair open up two days after the storm might have suited my purposes if that is what I wanted to do yesterday. Though I think on a typical powder day when all lifts are open, I'll still lap Zoomer first now even more so because the Mittersill lift will make Cannon's best open slopes last that much longer on a powder day.
 

deadheadskier

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great report. I need to hit Middlebury sometime in conditions like this past weekend. Definitely looks like my kind of hill.
 

billski

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The line under the triple looked difficult to ski. There was a lot of fairly significant upslope with deep pow after a nice drop. I don't think you could get enough momentum to slay it.

The lake mid-mountain was pretty unusual.
 

polski

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Yeah, I like that lake. And right, the bottom of the liftline flattens out a bit but I saw one set of (day-old?) tracks there and once past the steepest part, straightlining seemed to do the trick until the very end where the skier had to sidestep to get back to Allen.

Whaleback apparently is closed Sunday nights. Local hill ... reminded me a bit of a Bradford vibe (my own local hill) but rockin' out more and with far superior terrain.
 

polski

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Though I think on a typical powder day when all lifts are open, I'll still lap Zoomer first now even more so because the Mittersill lift will make Cannon's best open slopes last that much longer on a powder day.

funny, I was mulling this dynamic as I was driving up 93 and deciding what to do. I was looking at a sloppy seconds day so it wasn't quite the same but it did occur to me the new lift could ease pressure on the Front Five.
 
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