Sunday, January 13, 2013

The State of Winter

Winter’s off to a strong start. Those who don’t live in the North Country might not understand what I mean by “strong start,” so let me explain: A strong start means cold and snow before the end of the calendar year. In November, we had several stretches of fine, cool weather--not blistering cold; just cool enough for the snow makers on Mt. Mansfield to blow snow nightly. We also slid nicely into a pattern of sporadic but persistent snow showers in early December. This set us up for a proper pounding just after Christmas: two feet of snow. That cemented this winter’s robust beginning.

A beginning does not a winter make, and certainly the past few days have served to remind that winter--in the context of the warmest recorded year in the past 100 or so--faces many challenges before the ski lifts stop turning in April. Temperatures have been in the high 30s for a couple of days, initiating an early January thaw. From a snow removal point of view, this isn’t a terrible thing. The snow has been working its way off the Auberge’s roof, and walkways have been widening. Even the mailbox is accessible for our carrier.

The forecast is for a return to cold and snowy conditions by the end of the week. The word is that several Alberta Clippers will be overpassing us, touching off persistent by light snow events for the next week. An Alberta Clipper is weak cold front that traverses Canada after originating over the western provinces. It’s typically fast moving, without much oscillation, and as it gathers up what little moisture there is in the atmosphere, it dumps it out upon encountering the northern Green Mountains--in other words, Stowe.

All that said, skiers and riders should, at this point, be thinking about one thing: March.

It’s safe for me to say that the amount of snow blown onto the trails at Mt. Mansfield will guarantee excellent conditions throughout March, whatever the rest of the winter brings.  There will be more natural snow; there always is. And that combination makes March the best time of the year to ski. Here’s why:

First, there’s the snow. Statistically, March is the snowiest month of the year up here. Our first year in Stowe, we received over ten feet of snow. Even last year, a tough snow year, we had snow. Second, there’s the light. The angle of the sun and the length of the days can’t be overstated as a benefit to skiing in March. Sun equals happy, and more light means trails are easier to see for longer in the day. Gone are the flat-light devils of early January. More light begets better skiing. Third, there’s the temperatures. While the nights stay cold, days warm--not quite into spring conditions; that’s April. But sunny, milder weather that’s still below freezing send the skiing, riding--or even snowshoeing or dogsledding--into a different plane. It’s sublime. And by the end of the month, the sugar houses are cranking away, filling the air with the sweet smell of boiling sap.

March means a general detente, the knowledge that winter’s worst is over, but there’s still plenty to enjoy. If you still need a reason to make a trip up here in March, here are two more: Chantal’s birthday, and St. Patrick’s Day. So come on up and enjoy the Ides of March with us, and grab the best skiing of the year.

The frozen waterfalls under the gondola
are blessed with green dye on St. Patrick's
Day each year. Another good reason to 
come skiing in March. 

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