Monday, January 23, 2017

Mediocre winter good for spring

In the winter of our dreams, the cold weather comes and stays, not brutally cold, but cold enough to keep our plentiful storms of powder snow firm on the groomed tails and fluffy in the back country. New England terrain and weather have trained us to want a little heavier, denser snow right at first, but if we have to settle for nothing but powder, we'll manage to live with it.

This has not been the winter of our dreams. After a little 6-inch tuneup and a solid 14-plus inches in a storm of moderately powdery snow, we've had repeated thaws, some rain, and only wet snow when we got snow at all.

Density is the key. The warm cold, just below freezing, and the high moisture content of the snow, have put down a dense layer that has consolidated a lot under the cycles of freezing and thawing. When powder melts, it vanishes like cotton candy. You need a ton of it to give you any spring skiing at all. But this stuff we're getting this winter handles thawing beautifully.

I've only been out on the groomed trails about three times, but I've done a lot of skiing around my own woods, just checking out the scenery and wildlife, or gathering dead pine limbs for kindling. When the temperature has been just above freezing, the top layer of the dense base has softened up perfectly for maneuverability.

The National Weather Service tells us that the storm that is moving in this afternoon will bring mostly snow and sleet in a temperature range from the mid 20s to the low 30s. An accumulation of 4-7 inches total, largely made up of high-moisture snow and sleet, will fill in the ungroomed areas with a very durable surface to enjoy when winter fades. Things being as they are these days, winter could start to fade in a couple of weeks, or hang on to the verge of April. Unless we get a disastrous thaw and deluges of rain, the ground cover should provide hours of fun in the longer daylight and milder temperatures of late winter and early spring.

A blockbuster storm would only push the closing date farther. Even without that, with a couple or a few additions of several inches here and there, a lot of terrain at low to moderate angles will be a fun house. In suitably open woods, it might be a great year to take the skating skis off the reservation and go wild.

New England teaches us to let go of our hopes and expectations. I'm just pointing out technical observations, not making a rock-solid prediction. If this then that. If we keep this high-density frozen product, which is actually not great for skiing among trees when it is frozen hard, our reward will be some quick and challenging skiing in the warmth of lengthening days.

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