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Deepcember Snows 

Photo Essay

Natural snow has lingered in the mountains for nearly six weeks, and many Vermont ski areas opened over the Thanksgiving weekend. This can mean only one thing: “Real winter” is imminent.

For most downhill enthusiasts, December kicks off the season. It’s when many of us finally take the bike rack off the car roof, dust the cobwebs off the skis and — if and when it really starts to snow — go skiing. Think the snow pack is still too thin? Perhaps counterintuitively, the month can actually bring some fine, fluffy powder days.

“December is just a magical time of year to be in the mountains,” declares Ian Forgays, 44, a backcountry skier from Bristol. “The light is beautiful, winter is really here to stay for a while … It’s an annual rebirth of the sport.” Forgays enjoys skiing throughout the Northeast — he’s logged more than a dozen ski days already this season. And, for his money, “December always seems to come through with some of the best skiing.”

According to the National Weather Service, December holds the title for the snowiest single month on the long-term record for most Vermont locations — for example, 91 inches fell at the snow stake on Mount Mansfield in December 2003. That’s even more than the record 83 inches of snowfall during March 2001, when three nor’easters pounded Vermont. On average, December is the second snowiest month in the state, right after January.

A few factors contribute to a “Deepcember,” and Lake Champlain is an important one. When it’s still relatively free of ice, the lake is an abundant source of moisture to the cold winds blowing in from the north and west. The winds absorb that moisture and release it in the form of lake-effect snow — aka “Champlain powder” — as the wet air flows up and over the Green Mountains. While it results in ample snowfall in the mountains, this phenomenon can leave the valleys, where many of us live, nearly snow free. If you don’t closely follow snow reports for the peaks, you might not even realize that a foot of fresh powder has fallen overnight.

Stowe skier David Hatoff, 42, always looks forward to a few deep-powder days at year’s end.

“There’s not a lot of skier traffic, and there are few bumps on the trails, so there tends to be plenty of smooth, untracked snow to go around,” he says. “It won’t be long now.”

That’s true. So, stay tuned to mountain-weather reports, ready your ski gear and pray for another memorable Deepcember in Vermont.

All photos by Brian Mohr / Emily Johnson / Ember Photo.

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