The Forest through the Trees: Skiing the GBA’s Glades

If you haven’t skied any of the Granite Backcountry Alliance’s new glades in New Hampshire’s White Mountains yet, you’re missing out. Formed in 2016, the GBA’s mission is to provide low-impact human-powered backcountry skiing opportunities to the public through the creation, improvement, and maintenance of ski glades in New Hampshire and Western Maine. Working in partnerships with public and private landowners, the GBA has so far established five glades, with more on the horizon. Want to sample the GBA’s handiwork? Keep reading for the beta on a few of their most recent projects.

Skiing the trees on Bill Hill. | Credit: Tim Peck
Skiing the trees on Bill Hill. | Credit: Tim Peck

Great Glen North/Bill Hill Glades

Named after a local who “spent some time in them thar hills,” Bill Hill is located on land owned by the Gorham Land Company—who also own the Great Glen Trails, the Mount Washington Auto Road, and the newly opened Glen House Hotel. Categorized by the GBA as a “lunchtime lap” destination, don’t be dissuaded from spending a day sampling the skiing at Bill Hill; The various glades here may be short, but they feature tightly spaced trees in an area that was recently logged and have just the right amount of pitch. On top of that, Bill Hill is north facing so the glades hold snow after a storm.

To access Bill Hill, park in an obvious plowed area on Bellevue Road—just outside of downtown Gorham—and begin skinning on an established snowmobile track to the far end of the airport, which is easily identified by a brick building. Snowmobile traffic here can be heavy at times, especially on the weekends, so keep your guard up, wear bright colors and, if traveling in a group, skin in single file. At the end of the airport, traverse through an open area—that’s also clearly popular with snowmobilers—and loop back along the opposite side of the airstrip for a few hundred yards before entering the woods on the right. If this seems confusing, just picture the approach as a “U.”

Shortly after entering the woods, skiers will come across a mountain bike trail sign reading “For Pete’s Sake.” Follow that trail momentarily before breaking left onto an old logging road that leads to steeper terrain, eventually gaining a ridge and the top of the gladed skiing—if you’re not skiing in the middle of a storm, there is a good chance someone has done the hard work and put in a skin track to follow. From the top of the ridge, there are multiple glades to drop into and enjoy the 600-foot descent through the trees to the old logging road you entered on. From here, either head back up for another run or retrace your steps to the car.

Looking down on the Crescent Glades. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking down on the Crescent Glades. | Credit: Tim Peck

Crescent Ridge Glade

Another great glade is just up the road in the Randolph Community Forest. Offering something for everyone, Crescent Ridge Glade features five distinct ski corridors—described by the GBA as “low-density vertical lines that are approximately 35-50 feet in width”—that all funnel skiers into a large hardwood glade and, eventually, back to the trail they entered on. From here, skiers can easily head up for another lap (or three) before returning the way they came to their car. Offering a wide variety of terrain in a relatively condensed area, the initial pitch of Crescent Ridge’s runs vary between 30 and 35 degrees, before mellowing to 20 to 25 degrees, eventually giving way to 10- and 15-degree terrain on the ski out.

Crescent Ridge skiers start the day at a plowed parking lot located at the end of Randolph Hill Road, right off of U.S. Highway 2 in Randolph. From the parking lot, skin past the kiosk on a wide track for a few minutes before entering the woods on the Carlton Notch Trail. Following the GBA’s blue blazes, skiers will skin through gently rolling terrain, through a large open field with amazing views of the Northern Presidentials (just turn around), and past the bottom of the large hardwood glade. It’s here that the skintrack steepens for the final push to the ridge and entry points to the ski corridors, which are numbered 1 through 5.

Skiers should plan on it taking between an hour and an hour and a half to make the little-under-two-mile, 1,000-foot climb from the parking lot to the ridge and expect it to take 20 to 30 minutes to transition and make the 600-foot climb needed to lap the trees. Getting back to the parking lot is easy and fast (provided the water crossings are filled in)—simply ski back the way you came in.

Skiing Maple Villa with Mount Washington in the distance through the trees. | Credit: Tim Peck
Skiing Maple Villa with Mount Washington in the distance through the trees. | Credit: Tim Peck

Maple Villa

Maple Villa Glade is the largest, longest, and most popular glade on this list. Skiing at Maple Villa—which is named for a hotel at the end of the original ski trail—has a long history, beginning in 1933 with the Civilian Conservation Corps cutting the “Maple Villa” ski trail. Shortly thereafter, Maple Villa became the Intervale Ski Area, which operated for approximately the next 40 years. Following the closing of Intervale Ski Area in the mid-1970s, the Maple Villa area was home to the Eastern Mountain Sports (cross-country) Ski Touring Center. Skiers today will discover everything from tightly spaced trees to resort-esque runs varying in length from 800 to 1,700 feet.

One of the factors for Maple Villa’s popularity (in addition to its expansive terrain) is its proximity to North Conway. The parking lot for Maple Villa is found on 70 East Branch Road in Intervale and is just minutes from North Conway. Leaving the parking lot, skiers follow blue blazes along the original Maple Villa Ski Trail as it slowly gains elevation along the two(ish)-mile skin that climbs approximately 1,700 feet. A number of descent options are obvious from the top of the glade—all of which offer a mostly moderate pitch and terrain alternating between closely spaced trees to more widely spaced runs. Keep your eyes peeled as Mount Washington can be spied through the trees on the descent.

The upper half of Maple Villa is meant to be lapped, and the area’s primary runs all deposit skiers to the same place—allowing them to follow the skin track back up roughly 800 feet of elevation, or providing them with a gentle ski out the way they came, along the old Maple Villa Ski Trail. Skiers can expect it to take an hour to an hour and a half to go from the parking lot to the top of the gladed terrain and between 30 and 45 minutes to skin a lap.

 

Whether it’s establishing larger areas like Maple Villa or maintaining smaller “lunch lap” locations like Bill Hill, the Granite Backcountry Alliance has put a lot of time, work, and money into these projects. If you explore these glades, please be courteous of the area and respectful of the rules, especially where to park if a lot is full. If you’d like to support the GBA, consider donating, becoming a member, attending one of their events (like the upcoming Wild Corn on April 4th), or taking part in one of their workdays.


Abandoned But Not Forgotten: Skiing Mount Watatic

Here’s a little secret that backcountry skiers in Massachusetts have been keeping for years: Mount Watatic, in Ashby, Massachusetts, still has awesome skiing. Sure, it’s a small mountain that “officially” closed as a ski resort in the mid-1980s, but in recent years locals have revitalized the abandoned trails, turning it into a backcountry paradise for skiers and riders of all abilities. Read on for the beta of this prime destination, located less than 60 miles from Boston.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Watatic’s Backstory

Although skiing began on Mount Watatic as early as 1940 (when a rope tow was installed), the resort’s heyday ran from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. At its peak, the resort had multiple lifts, snowmaking, a ski school, a base lodge, and night skiing. There were also six top-to-bottom trails—Spruce, Wapack, The Line, Cascade, Big Dipper, and Little Dipper—each with between 500 and 600 feet of vertical drop.

Like so many smaller resorts, Mount Watatic eventually succumbed to larger, glitzier, and more convenient mountains, closing for good in 1984. Things remained quiet at Mount Watatic until the early 2000s, when a company made plans to build a cell tower on the mountain. Thankfully for skiers, the tower was never built, with the land instead purchased and set aside for conservation in 2002. However, this didn’t happen until after the telecom company that planned to build the tower had blasted a road to the top of the mountain, slicing diagonally across the ski area (and the remnants of the ski trails) in the process.

watatic_map

Accessing the Goods

Whichever lot you decide to park in, “the road” is now Watatic’s most distinct landmark. It is the easiest ski descent on the mountain and it is also the unofficial uphill route for skier traffic thanks to its wide, even surface and moderate grade.

The road also separates Mount Watatic into two sections, the upper mountain and the lower mountain. Although it feels strange to divide a mountain with less than a thousand feet of elevation into sections, both the upper and lower mountain have distinct characteristics.

The Upper Mountain

The runs on the upper half of Mount Watatic feature everything from short, steepish chutes to perfectly spaced pine glades. In line with the old ski trails, the most challenging terrain is found on skier’s right just below the summit—on top of the old ski resort’s two black diamond runs, Big Dipper and Little Dipper. Attentive skiers should look for the awesome glade run hidden between the two; make sure to check it out on a pow day!

Cascade and Thin Line drop straight down the center of the upper mountain. Their starts are easy to find and both lead to tight runs that are lots of fun in good snow conditions. Of the two, Cascade is better maintained and, in most conditions, a little wider and easier.

The remnants of the trails on skier’s left are a little harder to find; the upper portions of the road have subsumed a good part of the upper section of Wapack, while the start of Spruce is overgrown and partially hidden. However, spending the time to find the start of Spruce—you’ll essentially ski down a short section of the hiking trail to find it—is well worth it, as it’s a tight, fun run that flows uninterrupted to the base area.

Because these runs are not formally maintained, conditions can vary from totally clear to shwacky depending on factors like skier traffic and snowfall. Be sure to also pay attention to your turns as these trails intersect the road separating the upper and lower mountain; the terrain here is sometimes tricky, as the road builders put little thought into preserving the ski trails.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Lower Mountain

The lower mountain’s three distinct runs (Wapack, Cascade, and Little Dipper) remain in their historic locations. They are easy to find from the road and tend to be more open and lower angle than the upper mountain trails, making them perfect for newer backcountry skiers and a pleasant reprieve from dodging trees (and the occasional rock) up top. Moreover, frequently windy conditions near the top of the mountain can often leave it scoured, but great snow can be found down low with powder pockets deposited generously across Watatic’s lower slopes.

The first trail that skiers descending the road see is Wapack. Dropping off the road just after it makes a sharp bend, Wapack is a tight chute, with interspersed mini-glades, that runs to the base area. It is the longest and most challenging of the lower three runs.

The drop in for Cascade is a short distance further down, just before the one steep section on the road. Although once fairly tight due to regrowth, Cascade was, and is again, the widest run on the mountain and offers fun skiing on moderate terrain.

At the bottom of the road’s decline, skiers can take a sharp left onto Little Dipper. Although not as wide as Cascade, it is the lowest angle of the three runs and is pleasant, easy skiing, especially near the bottom.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Base Area

All of the lower slope’s runs deposit into a large open area at the base of Mount Watatic, which makes it easy to regroup between laps. This area also gets a considerable amount of sun, allowing for comfortable conditions to refuel and transition between downhill and uphill skiing.

Have you skied Mount Watic either under your own power or when it was still operational? If so, tell us about your experience in the comments below!


12 Things All Beginning Backcountry Skiers Should Know

Backcountry skiing is exploding in popularity. Need proof? Look no further than the new zones being created by advocacy groups, such as the Vermont Backcountry Alliance and the Granite Backcountry Alliance. Or, look toward ski resorts, which have expanded their uphill policies to take advantage of the enthusiasm people have for earning their turns. If you’re new to backcountry skiing, there is a lot to learn—new gear, new techniques, and new challenges, to name a few. But, follow these tips, and your first day will be a step closer toward being great.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Know where to go

Sure, we all have dreams of sending the headwall in Tuckerman Ravine to the cheers of the crowd below. The reality is, though, a skier’s first days in backcountry gear are best spent uphilling at the resort, getting to know their supplies, dialing in technique, and becoming accustomed to transitions and the demands of going up and back down. After a few sessions at the resort, the bottom third of the Cog Railway, Mount Cardigan, or the Carriage Road on Mount Moosilauke is great for an initial backcountry outing.

2. Pick up a partner

There is no ski patrol in the backcountry—meaning, you’re on your own in the event of anything from an injury to an avalanche. A good touring partner turns into a valuable resource, as you’ll be counting on them for a rescue. Even better, find a more experienced partner and try to learn something new from them each time you go out. And, in addition to being safer, your uphill skins will go faster, runs will be more fun, and après beverages will be far tastier.

3. Don’t bonk in the backcountry

Just because you ski from bell to bell at the resort doesn’t mean you can, or should, in the backcountry. Your body requires a lot of calories to power uphill, keep warm, and shred the descent, so be sure to stay well fed when touring. While it’s easy to take frequent snack breaks during the warmer months, finding food you can eat on the move helps you stay warm and fueled in winter. If you prefer to stop, keep your puffy at the top of your pack, and put it on while you’re snacking.

EMS -Winter-Ski Mistaya Lodge -3734

4. Fuel up

While staples like Snickers, Clif bars, and GU fuel summer adventures, they often freeze when subjected to winter temperatures, making them impossible to eat—at least without breaking your teeth. Because of this, we prefer to pack cookies, crackers, mixed nuts, tortilla chips, and other foods that won’t freeze. But, if you just need to have that summit Snickers, pack it close to your body.

5. Leave the hydration bag behind

Much like staying well-fueled, keeping well-hydrated is important. Although hydration packs are convenient during the warmer months, they are prone to freezing in the winter. As a side note, we’ve tried all the tips and gadgets to keep hydration packs from freezing and have yet to find something reliable enough to trust.

Instead, we prefer good, old-fashioned, wide-mouth Nalgene bottles—the wide mouth inhibits freezing at the top of the bottle—packed into our puffy coats. Supplement your water bottle with a Hydro Flask thermos filled with hot chocolate or tea. Drinking something warm is an easy way to keep your core warm, and beverages like hot chocolate deliver the calories to keep you going.

6. Pack an extra set of gloves

Sweating, handling skis, and digging into the snow are just some of the ways gloves get soaked while you’re skiing in the backcountry. With this in mind, we always bring an extra set. We prefer one or two pairs of lightweight leather gloves for touring, a medium-weight pair for descending, and a heavyweight pair of mittens for extreme cold conditions.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Have plenty of straps

Ski straps are an essential tool in any backcountry skier’s arsenal, as their uses are seemingly limited only by your imagination. Over the years, we’ve seen ski straps used to hold skis together, in lieu of a broken bootstrap, to keep frozen skins attached to skis, and in a multitude of first aid training scenarios. So, keep a few ski straps stashed in your pack. We keep one wrapped around a ski pole, one in our first aid kit, and one in our repair kit. Ultimately, you never know when you’ll need one, or how you will end up using it.

8. Save the goggles for the descent

There’s a reason nearly every ski pack has a dedicated goggle pocket. Specifically, when they’re not being used, goggles belong in your pack. One of the easiest ways to stand out as a newbie is to hike with a pair on your forehead. Added to this, getting to the top of a run, only to realize your goggles are perilously fogged over, completely sucks the fun out of your descent.

9. Perfect your technique

Perfecting your uphill technique does wonders for your climbing efficiency. Here’s one tip for doing so: glide, rather than step. Lifting your ski off the snow is a common rookie mistake. As well, it slows you down, sucks up more energy, and makes it more likely you’ll slip on the uphill.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

10. Downhill before uphill

When transitioning from up to down, click into your downhill ski first. Doing so keeps your gear above you and helps prevent it from sliding away. Equally important, this step makes it easier to click into your uphill ski. On steeper terrain, stomp out a solid platform using your skis before you transition from uphill to downhill.

11. Don’t forget about the in-between

It’s easy to solely think of the uphill and downhill parts, but a fair amount of time is spent transitioning between the two. This is especially true if you’re running laps at the resort or skiing in a smaller zone. Practice transitioning from uphill to downhill, and vice versa, to pick up precious minutes of ski time and avoid the cold that comes with stopping. It’s also a good idea to develop a pattern for transitions—doing the same things, in the same order—to avoid pitfalls like skiing half of a run with your boots still in “walk” mode.

12. Know how your gear works

Clicking into a tech binding is hard at first, so get some practice in your living room before you head out. More significantly, carrying backcountry essentials, such as a shovel, probe, and beacon, is not enough. Instead, learn how to use these lifesaving devices before they’re needed. So, make time before and during the ski season to refresh your skills—your and your partner’s lives may depend on it.

Pro Tip: If entering avalanche terrain is on your to-do list, consider taking an avalanche class. The EMS Climbing School runs both Backcountry Skiing 101 and American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) classes throughout the winter.

Do you have any backcountry skiing tips for beginners? If so, leave them in the comments.


Alpha Guide: Skiing the Whiteface Auto Road

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

A staple winter outing for cross-country and backcountry skiers in the Adirondacks, Whiteface’s Toll Road offers ease of access, a long route, and a large ascent, making it a great objective for those being introduced to backcountry skiing and for those looking to maintain their fitness for bigger objectives.

The Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway is a five-mile stretch of paved road that ascends the opposite side of the mountain from the well-known ski resort. Every year, the Toll Road gates close for the winter season and re-open after all the snow melts in the spring, so winter access to the Toll Road is for non-motorized traffic only. This turns the five miles of eight-percent incline pavement into a long and flowing skiable trail.

As one advantage, the Toll Road doesn’t need much snow to be skiable. Because the base is smooth pavement instead of a rocky and lumpy trail, just a few inches of fluffy stuff transform the surface and make it one of the most reliable early-season ski tours. However, skiing to the top of Whiteface is only half the fun. From the end of the road, you have multiple options for descents, depending on conditions and ability.

NOTICE: There is work scheduled on the Whiteface summit elevator for the 2018/19 winter season. Because of this, the Toll Road will be plowed on weekdays. 

Quick Facts

Distance: 10.5 miles, out and back to the summit.
Time to Complete: Half-day for most
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: November through April
Fees/Permits: None.
Contact: https://www.whiteface.com/activities/whiteface-veterans-memorial-highway

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Turn-By-Turn

From I-87 North, Take Exit 30 for 73W. Drive through Keene Valley and into Keene, bearing right onto 9N North. Take 9N into Jay and make a left onto 86, which will take you into Wilmington. At the main intersection of 86 and 431, follow 431 straight and up the hill to the toll house, following signs for the Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway.

The parking area to ski the Toll Road is right at the Whiteface Memorial Highway toll booth (44.402276, -73.877192). In winter, the road is plowed up to this point. The toll booth will have its gate down and locked. Park to the side of the road, but be careful not to pull too far off the shoulder into the soft snow.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Ascent

The Toll Road keeps a constant eight-percent grade for the entire 2,300 vertical feet, so the climbing begins immediately from the car and never lets off. Although the climb is consistent, however, it never feels steep. This lets you find a rhythm for efficient and consistent uphill skinning. It also helps those new to skinning get the basic motions down.

The road stretches and winds for a few miles. Along the way, the roadside picnic tables offer a few opportunities to take a break and enjoy the view. The higher you climb, the more the snow depth increases, and the trees become more and more buried. At 3.3 miles in, the road opens up to a northwest-facing view, with a picnic table. This spot also makes the base for the upper slides that run between the switchbacks (44.371359, -73.905634).

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Switchbacks

Here, you’ll spot the top of the mountain, so it might seem like you are just about finished, but you still have 1.7 miles of road and 700 feet of elevation to climb through the switchbacks. So, don’t get too excited yet. As you continue onto the switchbacks’ first turn—aptly names the Lake Placid Turn—you will find that the road opens up to a fantastic view of Lake Placid and the High Peaks. On a clear day, it’s easy to spend a lot of time here soaking in the sun and the views.

Past here, the road continues up, with a 0.8-mile stretch until the next switchback, which offers views of Lake Champlain, the Green Mountains, and beyond. Finishing the second switchback sends the road back west and into the final stretch to the Castle. This last section is just about at treeline, so expect high winds for the final stretch. The Castle (44.367348, -73.906213) is normally an operating cafe with warm drinks and food, but in the winter season, don’t expect to find any unlocked doors or hot meals waiting for you. As one benefit, it offers some shelter from the biting winds.

From the Castle, unclip your skis, and make the final ascent up the shoulder trail to Whiteface’s summit (44.365852, -73.903005). This section of the mountain is often windswept, so expect to find both bare ice or rock and deep snow drifts. Traction aids are highly recommended.

As is the case with any Adirondack summit, the top of Whiteface can offer spectacular 360-degree views on a clear day, or you could find yourself completely socked in with dense clouds. The summit may also be windswept and bitter cold; if you are trying to stay for more than just a few moments, the weather station, although locked, provides the only break from the biting winds. If you are fortunate enough to be up top on a clear day, the views of the surrounding High Peaks are crystal clear, and peering even farther to the east reveals the Green Mountains of Vermont and even New Hampshire’s Presidential Range beyond.

Lake Placid from the road. | Credit: Aaron Courain
Lake Placid from the road. | Credit: Aaron Courain

The Descent

Here is where skiers get more opportunities for backcountry fun. For skiers who are on Nordic setups or who are looking for a mellow descent, simply turn around and make your way back down the Toll Road. The mild pitch doesn’t make for fast skiing, but if you stay in your uphill skin track to build up momentum, you can shoot into the deeper snow to link a few turns before you slow down.

For backcountry skiers or snowboarders who are prepared and have the right abilities, and for when the conditions are good (having advanced avalanche knowledge is necessary), the top of the Whiteface Toll Road provides access to multiple slides. The previously mentioned slide that cuts through the Toll Road switchbacks is the obvious choice if you want to easily end up back at your car.

The slide begins at the top of the Toll Road near the Castle. However, entrance to the slide requires a careful hop over the stone wall into the snow. Be sure not to hop over at the wrong spot; otherwise, you will have a long fall. Once at the base of the Toll Road wall, clip or strap in, and make your way down the slide to the Toll Road’s first crossing. The slide’s upper portion is steeper than the lower portion, and may have an icy base obscured by a thin layer of snow.

When the slide reaches the Toll Road, cross and find a weakness in the trees on the other side of the road. The entrance to the slide’s lower half is steep, but it soon mellows out. Keep in mind that this section seems to collect snow more easily, due to having more vegetation and less wind exposure. When you get to the Toll Road again at the switchbacks’ bottom, you have reached the end of the slide. Now you can opt to head back up for another lap, or continue back to your car.


Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Kit

  • Every backcountry adventure requires a place to stash your layers, food, and extra gear. The Osprey Kamber 32 Ski Pack has all the durability, volume, and accessories you need to hold your skis and equipment for whatever tour or winter adventure you find yourself in.
  • Proper layering is key to a happy day of ski touring. The EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket is a lightweight, packable, and very warm down jacket, which itself is a crucial component of any layering system. You will be happy to have the low weight on the uphill and the extreme warmth on the downhill.
  • While a simple pair of sunglasses suffices on Whiteface’s summit in the summertime, in the winter, you will want the added protection of a pair of ski goggles, like the Native Eyewear Spindrift. These goggles have a wide field of vision and offer an easily interchangeable lens system, which lets you choose the right lens color for the conditions ahead.
  • While countless skis are appropriate for skiing the Toll Road and more routes, the Fischer S-Bound 112 finds a happy place between a Nordic touring ski and a true backcountry ski. The waxless base with a scaled mid section allows for plenty of grip on the uphill, and for steeper tours, the ski is also compatible with climbing skins for when more traction is needed. The shaped cut with a 78mm waist provides plenty of float and turning ability for the downhill in all but the deep powder days.
  • Collapsible trekking poles often have an advantage in the backcountry over a solid ski pole. But, any pole needs to have a set of powder baskets at the bottom, or else, it will basically be useless in deep, fluffy snow.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Keys to the Trip

  • It’s always a good idea to check the ski conditions and recent snowfall before a day of backcountry skiing. Too little snow means scraping your skis up and down pavement for miles. After a big dumping of snow, however, the Toll Road’s mellow grade may require just as much effort to go downhill as it does for uphill. The NERFC provides plenty of snow forecasting and data, so that you can make informed decisions on the best time to ski.
  • If you are venturing into Adirondack slide skiing, avalanche safety and preparedness are a must. Unlike Tuckerman Ravine, the Adirondacks have no avalanche forecasting. Nonetheless, having the proper knowledge is crucial for a safe day of backcountry skiing. Thankfully, the EMS Schools offer avalanche training for those who want to venture into the snowy backcountry.
  • When you come back down from the summit, head right back down the hill into Wilmington to stop at Pourman’s Taphouse. They have delicious, warm food with plenty of beers on tap to get the creative juices flowing for planning your next trip.
  • There is work scheduled on the summit elevator for the 2018/19 winter season. Because of this, the Toll Road will be plowed on weekdays. However, if a Friday or weekend snow fills in the Toll Road for the weekend, then, it’s game on!

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Current Conditions

Have you recently skied Whiteface’s Toll Road? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments for others!


Alpha Guide: Skiing in Tuckerman Ravine

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Who says the East doesn’t have bigtime, open backcountry skiing? A classic not just among Northeast skiers, Tuckerman Ravine is a serious challenge for all skiers and boarders.

“Skiing Tucks” is a rite of passage for almost every East Coast skier. The glacial cirque offers some of the best terrain east of the Mississippi, with high alpine conditions, steep chutes, and cozy gullies. The birthplace of “extreme” skiing in the 1930s and ’40s, it’s now the East’s most well-known and highly traveled backcountry skiing destination. Amongst its beautiful, rugged, and powerful terrain, its rich community, and addicting atmosphere, Tucks keeps the locals and the travelers alike coming back year after year.

The trip is easily done in a day, but staying multiple days allows for more skiing, earlier starts, and bigger weather windows.

Quick Facts

Distance: 2.9 miles to Tuckerman Ravine Floor, one way.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: December through April; best February and later.
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whitemountain/recarea?recid=78538 

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Turn-By-Turn

Parking and trailhead access to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail are at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center located on Route 16 between Gotham and Jackson. Weekend parking fills up quickly, but an overflow lot is located just south of the Visitor Center. Stop in the Visitor Center for last-minute supplies, trail conditions, and weather information before starting your ski up the trail.

DJI_0015
Credit: Andrew Drummond

The Approach

Follow the Tuckerman Ravine Trail from Pinkham Notch Visitor Center for 2.4 miles to the Caretaker Cabin at Hermit Lake Shelters (44.13269° N 74.85318° W). From the Visitor Center, the trail switchbacks before straightening out for a sustained climb to the intersection with the Huntington Ravine Trail. From there, you’ll pass the Harvard Cabin Fire Road junction before climbing to the Hermit Lake Shelters, where you’ll finally gain stunning views of the ravine. Chat with a Ranger or stop into the Caretaker Cabin for up-to-date weather, snow, and safety information before heading up into the ravine. From the Caretaker Cabin, continue up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail for just over a half-mile to reach the ravine’s floor.

While skiers can hike or skin to the floor, once you choose your runs for the day, climbing on foot is necessary to get to the top of the steep slopes. It is strongly recommended to climb up what you intend to ski down to get an accurate view of the conditions and terrain. Remember that the runs are always changing due to the amount of snow and how the snow fills into each run.

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Credit: Andrew Drummond

After Your Ski

The fastest and most enjoyable way down is the Sherburne Ski Trail, which is accessible from the Caretaker Cabin at Hermit Lake. This trail is roughly three miles long, would equate to a “Blue Square” in difficulty at your local ski resort, and, at the end, drops you off at the south side of the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center parking lot. The “Sherbie” is also a great objective when avalanche danger is high for the day, or if you just want to go for a quick ski tour. As spring progresses, however, Sherburne’s skiable area decreases. So, keep an eye out for a cross-cut back to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail when the coverage gets thin.

If you are looking to spend the night, check out the AMC Hermit Lake Shelters for a winter camping experience and quick access to the ravine; Harvard Cabin for a cozy, rustic night halfway up the trail; or Joe Dodge Lodge next to the trailhead for a bunk, a shower, and a meal.


The Runs

Courtesy: Colin Boyd
Courtesy: Colin Boyd

Hillman’s Highway

Aspect: East-Northeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 40 degrees
Vertical Distance: 1200 feet

Hillman’s is slightly removed from the main “bowl” and is located under the Boott Spur Buttresses. Get a great view of the run from Hermit Lake Shelters’ visitor deck. Easy access is found by heading up the Sherburne Ski Trail from the Caretaker Cabin. Points of reference on Hillman’s include “the dog leg,” the skiers’ left-hand curve near the bottom; the top of “the Christmas Tree,” an area of vegetation to the climber’s right of the slide path that, when filled with snow, looks like a Christmas tree from a distance; and the fork near the top of the run, where skiers have a choice of two different variations.

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Credit: Jamie Walter

Left Gully

Aspect: East-Northeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 45 degrees
Vertical Distance: 850 feet

The ravine’s left-most prominent run is Left Gully. In the ravine, this run is often the first and last to be skied over the course of the season, as its northeast orientation helps the slope hold snow a bit longer due to decreased sun exposure. The top offers two general entrances to get into the run. When climbing up the gully, look to the right for a steeper entrance, or continue straight up for a slightly more mellow one. About halfway down, the run narrows a bit before making a left turn to drop you back into the bowl.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Chute

Aspect: East
Steepest Slope Angle: 50 degrees
Vertical Distance: 750 feet

Chute is easily identified by the hour glass-shaped choke point near the center. The steep entry funnels skiers through this 30-foot-wide point into open skiing and lower slope angles below. Use caution when climbing through the choke point, as skiers (and their sluff) may be descending. A great spot for a rest on the way up or down, a natural bench is under the rock buttress to the climber’s left of the choke point. It’s ideal for taking a minute to decide whether to keep going, to have a snack, or to take in the great views across the ravine.

Credit: Jamie Walter
Credit: Jamie Walter

The Lip

Aspect: Southeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 45 degrees
Vertical Distance: 750 feet

The Lip is located on the climber’s right-hand side of the headwall, where a gap in the steep wall of rock and ice lets skiers sneak through and make big, open turns into the bowl. When skiing into The Lip, trend to the left to avoid going over the icefall area. The Lip becomes progressively steeper as you ski into it; this decreases the visibility of the run below you, until you reach the steepest pitch. As such, find visual landmarks as you climb up, and use them as a route-finding tool on the way down. All eyes are on you when you’re skiing The Lip, so make it count!

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Sluice

Aspect: South-Southeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 50 degrees
Vertical Distance: 700 feet

Sluice is found between The Lip and Right Gully. Its entrance is steep and has a tricky double fall-line, when the obvious ski run dictates one direction of travel, but gravity wants to take you in another. A good reference point for this climb is Sluice Ice, a cliff that holds vertical ice a few hundred feet up from Lunch Rocks. Use caution with your route-finding in the spring, as ice begins to shed as the temperatures rise. Skiers finish the run by skiing to the left side of Lunch Rocks.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Right Gully

Aspect: South
Steepest Slope Angle: 45 degrees
Vertical Distance: 700 feet

The most prominent gully on the south-facing wall is Right Gully. Because of their orientation, this run and Lobster Claw see the most sun in the ravine, so keep this in mind when searching for the perfect soft spring corn. Though it’s a bit shorter than some of the others, the consistent slope angle and half-pipe-like feel make this a favorite. A great place to scope out the line, decide whether to keep climbing, or have a snack is on the natural bench that forms under the climber’s right side of the slight choke point, just under halfway up the run.

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Credit: Andrew Drummond

Lobster Claw

Aspect: South
Steepest Slope Angle: 40 degrees
Vertical Distance: 700 feet

Once you locate Right Gully, look a few hundred feet to the right to find Lobster Claw. This run is under the ravine’s Lion Head area. Slightly narrower than Right Gully, the slope angle is a bit mellower and gets about the same amount of sunlight. Lobster Claw is home to quite a bit of vegetation and can often take longer to fill in enough to be skiable. When the ravine is crowded with skiers, however, Lobster Claw is often a less-crowded option. Use caution exiting the run, because plenty of rocks and trees sit below the main part of the gully.


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The Kit

  • Your avalanche rescue kit and the skills to use it are crucial when you’re traveling into the ravine. A popular combo is the PIEPS DSP Sport beacon, Black Diamond Transfer 3 shovel, and Black Diamond QuickDraw 280 probe.
  • Though they are not a substitute for crampons on steep slopes, Kahtoola MICROspikes are useful on lower-angle trails, or if you have to hike with your ski boots on a slick surface.
  • The slope angles in Tuckerman are steep! Having a small, lightweight ice axe, like the Black Diamond Raven Ultra, and knowing how to use it are extremely valuable tools for steep skiing and can add a bit of extra security.
  • An ultra-portable sunscreen like the Beyond Coastal Natural Lip and Face Sun Protection will help protect your face from burning while skiing in the ravine. Remember that snow is highly reflective and can amplify the effects of your goggle tan to a very unpleasant point.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Keys to the Trip

  • Avalanches are real and happen very regularly in the ravine. Check out the Mount Washington Avalanche Center forecast online in the morning, before you head into the ravine, and then, check in with USFS Avalanche Rangers or the AMC Caretaker for up-to-date beta on the best spots of the day.
  • On the way through North Conway, stop by Frontside Grind Coffee Roasters for a hot brew and bagel before you start your climb.
  • For beers and burgers after the trip, check out Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co. and Tuckerman Brewing Co.
  • For some early morning pre- or afternoon post-skiing yoga, check out the yoga classes at The Local Grocer. This is a great way to both warm your body up before a big day and recover after by stretching and keeping your body moving before the car ride home.
  • North Conway has many quirky shops that are unique to New Hampshire. Some of my favorites are the candy counter and hot sauce aisle at Zeb’s General Store; Dondero’s Rock Shop, where any geological nerds can find local and global samples of rocks and minerals; and Beef & Ski for truly bangin’ sandwiches.