It's only 20 days into March and spring’s scheduled arrival is still more than a week away; nevertheless, it sure feels like spring around here. The miraculous Leap Year storm that hit Mansfield at the end of February provided a much-needed reprieve in this winter of uncertainty. While much of Vermont and New Hampshire, to say nothing of Massachusetts and points farther south, have waited in vain for snowfall, Stowe has seen just enough winter to keep the wolves at bay.
But your Scribe is now seeing more and more bicyclists along the roads around the region and this is surely a sign of things to come.
Now back to skiing, which continued to be delightful this week. A couple of funky days following the big storm signaled the need for patience, but then the sun returned along with warmer days and local morale got a boost.
Both Saturday and Sunday mornings dawned cold and then temperatures started to rise. Crowd numbers at the Mansfield quads and the gondola were substantial but not overwhelming.
Trails with bumps, particularly those found on the Front Four and other routes like Chin Clip and over at Big Spruce — Whirlaway — remained roped off, more to protect skiers and riders from the unpleasantness of frozen moguls than lack of cover, but wherever the grooming machines had been, they produced really superior cruising conditions. With bright sunshine, it made for some great skiing and riding.
On Saturday, while driving up to the resort, it occurred to your Scribe that it would be an excellent day to take a run down the Bruce Trail. The previous Bruce trip had produced his encounter with the misplaced Mercedes SUV that someone had managed to bury near the bottom of the runout.
Thinking ahead about his return strategy from near the Matterhorn, where Bruce runs usually terminate, it seemed that parking at the Toll House might be a good idea — just approaching 9 a.m., the lift would be running and it would be a relaxed way to get up onto the hill.
It is a long, solitary trip up that mile-long lift that runs about 300-325 feet per minute, but with a cellphone in hand on a pleasant morning, the time passed quickly. From the top it was an easy run down to the Quad, where the line was growing but not yet monstrous. It was also nice not to have to walk across the parking lot and then summit to the lift via an ascent up what John Dostal calls the Quad Bowl.
The morning began with half a dozen runs down Liftline, Hayride, Nosedive and Gondolier — all of which were really good. Firm cruising can be very rewarding with a well-tuned pair of skis. The obligatory stop for coffee at the Octagon was next and then it was on to The Bruce.
There had been only one skier in front of The Scribe, the evidence found in a solitary pair of tracks etched into the half-inch of fluff that had fallen the night before. (Your Scribe speculated on the identity of that skier and guessed there was high likelihood of it being either Bruce Cassler or Tall Bob.)
It was an uneventful run. The bit of new snow took the edge off the hard moguls that marked the surface of the trail and, as The Scribe reached the lower elevations above the Ranch Valley, the sun had softened the surface. It was almost, but not quite, corn snow.
In the entire descent, he met only one other skier, a young man from Maryland skinning up on a very thin pair of skis. The two conversed for a minute or so and your Scribe suspected that when the other reached the top of the Bruce, he might find his return descent challenging, to put it mildly.
Soon enough, the run concluded with an easy glide over the Timberline Trail in the Mansfield Touring Center, no close encounters of the third kind and a pleasant trip out to Route 108 to wait for the bus. Timing was good, the bus arriving five minutes after The Scribe, and his return to the mountain was underway.
The original intent was to get off at the Toll House, but it was such a nice day, why not visit Spruce for a couple of runs in the early afternoon sunshine? It was then that, for some reason, it occurred to The Scribe that it might be fun to do something perhaps unprecedented in his long career — ski every lift.
Perhaps he had done it in the 1950s when there were only four or five lifts, but certainly not in recent memory. He departed the shuttle at the traffic circle near the hotel and trudged along the walkway leading toward the Sunny Spruce Quad.
The plan was hatched. Up to the top of the Quad, head across to the Sensation lift and start off with a run down Main Street or the Smugglers Trail. Both the run down into the hollow where the Sensation loads and the run from the top of Big Spruce were about as good as it gets — perfect snow and virtually no skiers or riders to be avoided.
Next stop would be The Meadows Carpet. Now those of a cynical inclination might pooh-pooh whether a trip up this would actually constitute a run but your Scribe knew that if he trumpeted his feat of skiing every lift to Stowe locals and failed to include this one, someone would inevitably ask, “Did you ride the carpet?” In defense of the carpet, for those new to the associated sports of snow sliding, a trip from the top of the carpet is no mean feat for a newbie.
It was entertaining to ride up beneath the glass canopy and then ski down to the Adventure Triple — total elapsed time about a minute. The ride up the triple is always fun. It is the only lift at the resort that brings you up through the residential village of ultra-expensive houses and townhouse units. It is important teaching terrain and the Inspiration Trail is well-maintained and full of skiers and riders doing their best to learn this challenging sport.
Next was a ride up the Meadows Chair, from the top of which The Scribe headed over to the Slalom Hill where the sun had produced some very pleasing corn snow. From the bottom it was on to the Over Easy, not to be forgotten when chronicling all of the lifts at the resort.
It seemed easier to ride the Gondola than skate all the way to the Triple Chair, the last of the lifts on the list. The chosen route was down Cliff Trail to Nosedive, pick up the Houghton Trail, which takes you all the way to the bottom of Gulch and then down to the Triple Chair.
The final ride up the Triple was pleasant and, for the trip back to the Toll House parking lot, your Scribe started with Sun Rise glades, which are very open these days, thanks to the work done by the resort’s summer maintenance team, then onto Toll Road, which eventually leads you to the Magic Mile and to the broad expanse of the Toll House slopes themselves, which almost always feature unmarked corduroy, no small reward at the end of a good day of skiing.
There was the car right next to the trail and the conclusion to an odyssey involving 12 different lifts, and skiing terrain stretching across the breadth of the resort’s trail system. It was so pleasant beginning and ending the day at the Toll House that The Scribe began Sunday in the same location.
Sunday too was a nice day to be out on the Mountain but as the temperatures rose into the 40s, one sensed that spring’s early arrival might provide significant challenges to keeping natural snow trails open.
Kim Brown, a ski bum by winter and a hacker by summer, lives in Waterbury Center with his very understanding family. Email letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.