Anyone who has questioned the commitment made by the Mountain Company over the previous two summers to expand snowmaking capacity had to be pretty well convinced this week of the wisdom of that course of action. It was remarkable how quickly the trail system recovered after what had been a very difficult three-day stretch of rain and warm weather. Once the mercury began sinking on Dec. 23, the guns came on, and by Christmas day, almost every trail with snowmaking had a fresh coat of white. Mother Nature has not been overly helpful so far this season, with only modest storms providing natural snow. In fact, a storm predicted for Sunday stayed far south, providing much-needed fresh snow in southern Vermont, but only a dusting on Mount Mansfield.
Yet, all in all, the skiing conditions remained pretty darn good. It was kind of firm in quite a few spots, but everyone has seen far worse. If one thinks back to the not too distant past, it is easy to conjure up recollections of a time when that dreaded condition known as “blue ice” would have torpedoed the joy of the holiday week.
Now, as Christmas passed and Thursday and Friday arrived, the hill was crowded with thousands of visitors, and the vast majority seemed to be having a good time. Your Scribe was up skiing briefly on Christmas day and the couple of days that followed, and in his usual garrulous way, he cross-examining the poor strangers trapped on the chair rides with him. There were quite a few folks who had ridden out the rough wet days leading up to Christmas and, surprisingly, everyone seemed to have had a good time. There is a certain sense of self-worth that creeps over those who brave the elements — sort of a band of brothers and sisters thing.
Once temperatures returned to the normal cold of late December, everyone was OK with the fact that here and there the surface might be a bit challenging. Over at Spruce, on the Gondola routes and on more modestly pitched runs like Tyro and Lullaby Lane, there was plenty of good flat snow to be ridden or skied. There were, of course, some rather steep obstacles in the form of huge deposits of fresh snow left by the aforementioned snowmaking guns. For some of the more adventurous sliders, they were a source of entertainment; for others, a definite source of potential trauma.
“Look ahead, ski in control,” are lessons passed on by professionals on the hill. And speaking of professionals, there was a truly amazing number of ski school coaches out there all week. It seemed that on almost every run, the challenges were not being provided only by the terrain, but instead by the need to carefully navigate around flocks of pupils being shepherded through their paces by their red-clad mentors. Any competent ex-instructor had to be in significant danger of being drafted by Ski and Snowboard School director Dave Merriam to handle a lesson or two.
If the weather prognosticators are to be believed, arctic air is now moving into the region. Hopefully, once the frigid nights have passed, a real storm will come to town. There is certainly a shallow snowpack in places across the hill, but everything remains white. Witness those who have been enjoying cautious but pleasing descents down the National Headwall. With one big storm, surely Goat, Starr and Lookout will be ready to go.
The race season is about to get underway, as the Mount Mansfield Ski and Snowboard Club is hosting the annual “Race into the New Year” GS on the Slalom Hill at Little Spruce. This has become a very fun event, particularly for young racers at the club and their parents. Already, over 100 competitors have signed up.
Of course, local bums know that of even greater import is the fact that Jan. 7, the first Tuesday of 2014, marks the beginning of the annual ski-bum race season. If you have not yet registered your team, do so now so that you do not end up with the dreaded four racers at the tail end of the start list.
For those loyal readers who have an interest in the Nordic side of life, both the Mansfield Touring Center and the Trapps Center have weathered the adverse weather surprisingly well. Cover is still thin around the perimeters of the trail networks, but all the busy routes like Sugar Road and Telemark at Trapps and Timber Lane and the Burt Road at Mansfield are pretty good. The Ranch Camp connector trail is passable, and the cabin at Trapps has seen a lot of visitors this week. With some cold weather coming in to harden up the existing snowpack, and with hopes for a storm in the not-too-distant future, there should be plenty of good cross country to enjoy as the New Year arrives.