Video: DIY Ski Waxing Tips

Temperature, temperature, temperature.


How to Choose Cross Country Ski Gear

In cross country skiing (also known as “Nordic” skiing) your skis, boots, and poles form a bond with your body that allows you to swiftly glide your way through a snow-covered forest, so making sure you have the right equipment for your outing can mean the difference between an unforgettable day exploring and a day that deters you from ever clicking in again. So how do you choose the right cross country ski set up for your upcoming expedition? It all depends on the type of skiing you’re about to embark upon.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Types of Cross Country Skis

There are three main types of cross country skis which correspond to the type of skiing you’re hoping to do: Touring, classic, and skate. Each ski type will aid you in a different skiing technique and on a different set of surfaces.

Touring

Touring skis can be used on groomed or ungroomed trails. They are also known as “backcountry” skis because of how rugged they can be. Generally, these skis are longer, light in weight, and a little bit thicker in width to provide more stability to skiers who decide to take on ungroomed trails. If you’re looking to utilize your skis both on groomed trails at your local XC ski center and on your local hiking trails, investing is a pair of touring skis is highly suggested. Those looking to tackle steeper and deeper conditions should also look at purchasing skis with metal edges.

Classic

Classic skis are used on groomed trails that provide a track set, grooves within the snow that your skis glide through. Track sets can be found at your local XC ski center. These skis are long, narrow, lightweight, and have a range in stiffness depending on the performance you are looking for.

Skate

Skate skiing is used on groomed trails. These skis are long, narrow, lightweight, and have a stiff flex to help transfer power from one stride to the next. This technique used for skate skiing resembles that of ice skating.

GO: Cross Country Skis | Boots | Bindings | Poles

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Length

It is a common misconception that you pick your skis based off you height and that the taller you are, the longer your skies should be. This is untrue in many cases. The length of your ski is going to depend on your weight. You need to be able to evenly disperse your weight across the ski properly to get the best kick, which transfers your power to the snow.

However, there will be many instances where your weight may fall into two different length skies. In this instance you want to factor in your ability level. The longer your, ski the faster you generally go. Those who are beginner to intermediate you may want to go with the short size in your weight range so you have more control. Once you get to the upper intermediate and advanced they you will upgrade to the longer version in your weight range.

This basic chart should give you an idea of the right length ski to have, but once you pick out a specific ski, pay attention to the recommendations of the specific manufacturer:

SKIER WEIGHT CLASSIC SKI LENGTH SKATE SKI LENGTH
100 – 110 lbs 180 – 190 cm 170-180 cm
110 – 120 lbs 182 – 192 cm 172-182 cm
120 – 130 lbs 185 – 195 cm 175-185 cm
130 – 140 lbs 187 – 200 cm 177-187 cm
140 – 150 lbs 190 – 205 cm 180-190 cm
150 – 160 lbs 195 – 210 cm 185-195 cm
160 – 180 lbs 200 – 210 cm 190-200 cm
>180 lbs 205 – 210 cm 190-200 cm

 

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Camber and Flex

The camber and flex of your cross country skis plays a huge roll in the performance you’ll get out on the snow. Both of these factors are usually determined based on your weight too, so don’t be bashful when asked—It could be the difference between an enjoyable easy gliding day or a day that makes you feel like you’re constantly fighting an uphill battle.

Camber

Camber refers to the upward curve in the middle of the ski, seen looking from the side. Classic skis tend to have more camber, while skate skis tend to have less. This is because classic skis require grip on the snow while you transfer your weight forward into your next gliding motion, and skate skis rely mainly on pushing from the edge.

To determine the camber, place both skis on the snow, click in, and the ski should level out based off your weight with the part under your foot just “kissing” the snow. Too much camber and not enough contact with the snow will result in a day of minimal grip on the snow and a lot of slipping when trying to glide forward. Too little camber and too much contact with the snow and you’ll stick like glue to it, requiring extra effort to glide forward.

Ski Flex

The flex of your skis refers to the bend or give they have as well as the power transfer and kick you get out of them. Stiffer flex skis springboard you forward a bit more than those that are softer. Again, this is determined primarily by your weight. Your cross country ski’s flex comes into play when talking about speed and turning comfort. Softer flex skis, which have more bend or give to them, grip the snow, making it easier to turn on softer snow and at slower speed. Stiffer flex skis provide you with speed and work best when the snow is firmer. If you are looking to get into racing, ski flex will become a bigger deciding factor in your purchase. The flex you choose should depend on the conditions. However, beginners should look into a softer flex ski until they feel more comfortable gliding along.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Waxable vs. Waxless Skis

All cross country skis have a wax base. The wax is what allows you to glide across the snow effortlessly as it reduces the friction created between the ski base and the snow. With cross country skis, there are two types of wax: kick wax and glide wax. Depending on the ski you choose, it may use kick wax and glide wax or just glide wax. Kick wax is what will allow your ski to grip the snow in what is called the “wax pocket” on your ski. It helps grip the snow as you shift your weight from ski to ski. Glide wax does just what you are thinking, it helps you glide. It moves across the snow reducing the friction between the ski and the snow.

Waxable cross country skis allow skiers to apply various types of kick wax depending on the snow temperature or hardness. Waxable skis utilize both glide wax and kick wax to enhance overall performance and are applied by heating up the wax and spreading it the length and width of the ski base.

Waxable skis are desired by many who are ultimately looking to compete or get the most out of their ski on any given day. This is because you can change up the wax you apply to the bottom to fit the conditions outside. Everything from air temperature, snow temperature, snowpack, and terrain can come into play. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of all-around waxes you can use too so you don’t have to keep reapplying wax before every ski session.

Waxless base cross country skis require low maintenance as they do not require the reapplication of kick wax throughout the season. Ridges are cut into the base of the ski that mimics the effects of kick wax. So, don’t be fooled by the naming, you’ll still need to apply glide wax to the base of your skis from time to time. Waxless skis require less maintenance, making them great for beginning skiers and those who want to save the time involved in waxing.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Boots

Your boots are what form the bond between you and your skis. Finding the perfect balance between comfort and performance is important. Don’t forget the fit, weight, and stiffness of these boots to make sure they’re comfortable, but just like the skis themselves, you’ll want to address a few performance factors to find the best pair for you.

Classic Ski Boots

If you’re going to be classic skiing, then you’ll want classic style ski boots. These boots offer more flexibility in the ball of your foot than the other styles. They have a lower cuff, usually around your ankle, for a greater range of motion while striding forward. The soles also range in stiffness to assist with your turning ability and responsiveness. Many boots also feature lace covers to keep your feet warm, dry, and protected while out on the trails.

Skate Ski Boots

Skate ski boots are stiff, responsive, and often feature carbon fiber ankle support to maximize your kick. These boots feature a high ankle cuff, usually Velcro or ratchet system, which assists with transferring power to the skis. Soles are stiff and lacing systems vary to keep your foot locked in for fast skiing.

Combi Ski Boots

Not sure which style skiing you want to take part in? Maybe you enjoy classic skiing but want to get into skate skiing. Combi boots blend classic ski boots and skate ski boots to offer all-around performance no matter which style you’re skiing. Offering a great range of motion for classic, higher ankle cuff for power transfer to your skate skis, and overall comfort, you’ll be out on the trail all day long with these boots.

Touring/Backcountry Boots

If you are using touring or backcountry skis, you will generally look at classic style boots where the flexibility is on the balls of your feet. There are touring/backcountry style boots however. They are often higher around the ankle to keep snow out and provide a bit more insulation for warmth while out on the trails.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Bindings

Bindings are what keep your boots connected to your skis as you glide your way through the snow-covered forest. Bindings are small but essential for all setups. Make sure you are aware of the pattern of your boot before you select a binding to be placed on your skis—Not all boots are compatible with all bindings.

NNN, or New Nordic Norm, pattern bindings feature two thin ridges that are raised to match the sole pattern on your boot. Boots connect to the binding by a single metal bar that runs across the tip of the boot. The boot to binding paring acts like a hinge as you glide forward in both classic and skate techniques.

SNS, or Salomon Nordic System, pattern bindings feature a single raised ridge that spans the bottom of your boot. Like the NNN pattern binding, the SNS utilizes a single metal bar to connect the boot to the binding allowing it to hinge as you glide along. Note that there is a variation of the SNS, the SNS Pilot, which uses two metal bars to connect the boot to the binding, allowing for superior flex and kicking motion without compromising stability.

NIS, or Nordic Integrated System, is essentially the same as the NNN pattern just attached to the ski in a different way. This baseplate pattern is compatible with the NNN pattern boots.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Poles

Ski poles will help you propel yourself along the trail while also providing stability for uneven terrain. You want ski poles that have some flex to them, a spiked end to grip the snow for added propulsion and stability, and comfortable hand grips—you’ll be holding these the entire time.

Touring and Classic Ski Poles

When classic skiing, you’re going to want a lightweight and sturdy pole. The pole should reach your armpit when standing flat on a groomed trail. For those who will be racing, you may want to add a few centimeters to the length and look at poles made entirely of carbon fiber. If you’re touring off groomed trails, seek out poles that are durable and have a telescopic option.

Skate Ski Poles

When searching for skate skiing poles, you want to look for ones that are stiff and lightweight. The size of your skate ski poles should be about 90 percent of your height: This mean the tops of them are between your chin and your nose when standing flat on the ground. The length of your poles plays a crucial part in maximizing your stroke efficiency because it allows you to engage your abs and your upper body to generate more speed.

 

Purchasing your first cross country ski package is an exciting time. You’ll have everything you need to hit the trails and take in the snow-covered forest as you slide along the trail. Stop into your local Eastern Mountain Sport and let the experts walk you through choosing the right ski, boot, binding, and poles for your desired cross country skiing technique.


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.


Video: Jerry of the Day's Best of 2018

With ski season coming to a close, it’s time to look back at the best…err, worst…moments of the 2018 season, courtesy of everyone’s favorite snow fail aggregator, Jerry of the Day. Give it a look so you know what not to do next winter.


Traveling Stress-Free With Your Skis or Snowboards

Planning a ski and snowboard vacation that requires flying can be just as daunting as it is exciting. How do you get all your beloved (and expensive) gear out there with you? Traveling with your gear is easier, and less nerve-wracking, than you might think.

Airline Policies

First, find out your airline’s specific policy on checking skis/boards which should be available on their website. Many airlines treat ski gear the same as regular checked luggage regardless of the longer dimension, although standard weight restrictions will apply. Typically, skis and boots are considered one checked item, even if they are in separate bags. Again, check with the airline you’re flying on for their exact rules and if you have any doubts, give the airline a call.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

 

Luggage

Invest in a good bag or hard shell case for your skis or snowboard. It may be the biggest cost up front, but you’ll spend more to fix or replace damaged equipment. Look for ski/board bags that are padded, sturdy, has wheels, and is larger than your gear (I use a 156 cm bag for my 144 cm board). Some bags might have room for extra gear and clothing, as well as boots. If not, pack those in a separate boot bag.

 

Pro Tip: Make your luggage recognizable with duct tape, stickers, patches, or ribbon. If you have the same bag as another person, it will be easier for everyone to make sure they go home with the right gear.

Packing Tips

Look up suggested ski packing lists and create a thorough one for yourself. Use packing cubes, stuff sacks, or compression bags to keep items organized and separated; You can then use them for dirty laundry.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Skis

Begin by strapping each brake down to keep the bindings compact and make packing around them easier. Use a thick rubber band or gear tie and be sure to position it over the top of the binding, not around the ski which would create pressure on the ski’s edges.­ If you have a bag or case with room for additional gear, separate the skis in the bag to better distribute weight. Strap a pole to each ski so they don’t interfere with other items and cover the tips (wine corks work great).

Snowboards

Remove the bindings from the board to avoid damage while getting jostled around by handlers and in flight. Use a crayon to mark where your bindings are located before removal. It’ll stay put while traveling and riding, but can easily be removed with the rough side of a sponge or finger nail. This will make set up a breeze. Pack the binding hardware and a tool or screwdriver in a zip-lock bag.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Helmet

While it may seem like a great idea to stuff your helmet in a checked bag and not drag it through airports, it’s recommended to carry it on the airplane with you. Although helmets are designed to withstand multiple minor bumps, they should only take one major hit and you don’t want that to be from a turbulent flight or rough baggage handling.

Boots

People are pretty divided on whether to carry-on or check boots. Carrying on can help reduce the weight of your checked luggage and ensure your boots make it to the mountain with you. However, boots are heavy, awkward, and can be a hassle in narrow airplane aisles and during layovers. Either way, stuff your boots with smaller items like socks, neck gaiters, hats and hand warmers to avoid wasted space. Sprinkle in a little baking soda or throw in a dryer sheet to keep things fresh.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Ski Clothes

It’s tempting to wear all your layers up on the plane in an effort to save space in your luggage…which isn’t a terrible idea if you have a short flight. But you shouldn’t need to wash all your gear by the time you land because you sweat through it already. Take one jacket on the flight, preferably a puffer since it can double as a pillow. If you choose to wear winter boots onboard, bring a pair of light slip-ons to switch into on the plane and while trekking between gates on a layover.

Street Clothes

Resist the urge to pack the same amount of street clothes you would for a non-ski trip. You’ll be spending most of your time on the slopes and in many mountain towns, ski clothes double as street threads. Remember non-ski socks and gloves, sunglasses and a swimsuit if you’ll have access to a pool or hot tub.

EMS -Winter Ski Mistaya Lodge -3760

Additional Recommendations

  • Book flights with layovers of at least one hour to give your skis/snowboard a better chance of arriving at your destination the same time you do.
  • If driving with others to the airport, have the driver drop-off all the gear and passengers at the airline’s designated entrance. The driver can then park the car and walk in bag-free. This also works on the return trip.
  • When you land at your destination and head to baggage claim, don’t panic if you don’t see your skis/boards on the carousel assigned to your flight. Most airports have a separate claim area for large and oversized baggage.
  • Research local ski shops and bookmark one or two in case you do forget something or need a tune-up or repair.
  • Worried the groomer skis you brought aren’t going to fare well after a dump fresh snow? Consider renting skis for the biggest powder day. Costs for a one-day ski rental are reasonable, and could make the difference between an okay and epic day. Be sure to get to the shop early or even the night before; They’ll be busy!
  • If you’re skiing more than a few days consider waxing your skis/board once during the trip, especially if there’s fresh snow.

Shipping Gear

An alternative to checking gear is to ship it to your destination ahead of time. Check with the resort or your accommodations to see if and how to ship it to them. You won’t need to haul your hard goods to and from the airport, but shipping gear is generally more expensive than checking it.

Visit your local ski shop and ask if they have any extra ski/board boxes you can snag. Have a backup plan if you make to the mountain before your skis do or your pickup location is closed because your flight was delayed and you got in late. Make arrangements or set aside time on your trip to ship the skis back before leaving. 

 

Don’t let the thought of flying with ski gear overwhelm you. Remember all options require some money, time and effort—whether it’s packing and checking luggage, shipping and picking up gear or visiting a shop to rent skis. But none have to be a hassle with a little planning.


The Top 6 Splitboarding Locations in the Northeast

While splitboarding does have many similarities to backcountry skiing, there are some subtle but important differences in the locations where participants prefer to “earn their turns.” First, when in touring mode, one is essentially skiing on two very large, heavy, and awkwardly shaped “skis.” This is simply a snowboard cut down the middle into two halves. Also making an approach more challenging are snowboard-style bindings and boots and the fact that many snowboarders have never skied.

While backcountry skiers often have no issue with rolling up and down hills or navigating tight icy turns on the way to a climb, many splitboarders prefer an approach that is relatively flat or continuously uphill. Secondly, splitboarders desire the same consistency, albeit in reverse, on their descents. While backcountry skiers can climb a short stretch of flats or rise in the middle of their descent, for a snowboarder, this means getting off your board to skate or carry it. Or, worse, you convert back to touring mode before another conversion to descend again.

Whether you’re a beginner looking to learn to skin at the resort, or a die-hard extremist seeking out that adrenaline rush, the Northeast does have some fantastic places to splitboard.

Courtesy: Magic Mountain
Courtesy: Magic Mountain

Magic Mountain, Vermont

A great way to get the hang of skinning and transitions as a beginner, or to just get some laps in, is to tour on resort trails. More and more resorts that used to frown on uphill travel are introducing policies that allow for such use during certain times, on certain trails, or with the purchase of an uphill pass. Magic, however, takes it a step further. Not only do they encourage uphill travel and riding anytime, anywhere, but they also celebrate it.

Use your own power to climb to the summit for a run. Or, stop to see a summit lift attendant, and they will give you a token to take one lift-serviced run on the house! Doing three or four laps with the skins gets you three or four runs on the lift and spells a free day of riding on a neat little mountain. All they ask is you consider grabbing a burger or beer at the lodge as a thank you! Find Magic off VT 11 just down the road from Bromley Mountain, right outside of Londonderry.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway, New York

If you’re looking to get laps on the resort trails, here, you will have to stick to dawn patrol—only permitted with an uphill pass and outside of operating hours. However, the toll road, which runs up the mountain’s backside, is a local favorite for touring. Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway typically is the first “ski” of the early season and provides a gentle cruise down. For more advanced riders, the toll road can also provide access to the mountain’s many backcountry slides. Find the parking lot by the toll house a few miles from Wilmington, New York, just past the intersection with Gillespie Drive.

Courtesy: Jay Peak
Courtesy: Jay Peak

Jay Peak, Vermont

Offering what most consider some of the Northeast’s best snow and glades, Jay also has some backcountry attractions for splitboarders. Nearby Big Jay and Little Jay mountains offer some expert riding terrain, including the famous East Face of Big Jay. These glades and chutes are accessible via a ridge trail from the resort or a skin up starting on logging roads from Route 242. Be warned, though. This is a remote and challenging area, and you should be prepared, as always, for the unexpected. If you have the backcountry skills and the legendary Jay snow comes through, this can make for an epic tour.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Wright Peak, New York

One of the more popular locations for Adirondack backcountry, Wright Peak offers two primary options. The Wright Ski Trail offers a classic Northeast run linked with hiking trails and other backcountry ski runs. Alternatively, the Angel Slides offer some steeper and more challenging terrain, but must be approached with proper awareness of avalanche conditions and safety. Access to the Wright Ski Trail is off the trail to Algonquin Peak, starting from the Adirondack Loj. The Angel Slides involve a bushwhack approach, leaving trails from the camping areas around Marcy Dam.

Credit: Jim Kelly
Credit: Jim Kelly

Mount Washington, New Hampshire

The many ravines, gullies, and gulfs of the Northeast’s largest peak have long been a mecca for backcountry skiing and snowboarding. Certainly the East Coast’s most celebrated center of backcountry, the famous Tuckerman Ravine area sees hordes of visitors and offers dozens of possible lines. From Pinkham Notch, plan on climbing for two to three hours up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the main bowl. Most paths down the headwall are expert runs, which sometimes approach 45- to 50-degree angles and may include icefall, cliffs, and crevasses. For a slightly easier run, explore Left and Right Gullies. When you have had enough, the Shelburne Ski Trail offers a fun ride back down.

While the party at Tucks is certainly worth the hype, the “Rockpile” has countless other treasures. For another open bowl with that larger West Coast mountain feel, head to the nearby Gulf of Slides. Starting from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, the Gulf of Slides Trail climbs moderately for 2.5 miles to the base of several large gullies up the ridge between Boott Spur and Slide Peak.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Mount Greylock, Massachusetts

The highest point in Massachusetts is also home to the legendary Thunderbolt Ski Trail. Starting at a parking area on Thiel Road just outside of North Adams, the Thunderbolt climbs over 2,000 feet to get close to Mount Greylock’s summit. This trail was home to many classic downhill races, and in the present, local groups keep this backcountry must-do in great shape. It is steep in sections and definitely an expert run. On a cold day, climb the extra few hundred feet from the top of the ski trail, using the Appalachian Trail, to the summit, where you can warm up in a large stone hut equipped with a wood stove.


The Crux: The NE 115's Toughest Winter Climbs

Climbing all of the Northeast’s 115 4,000-footers is a serious challenge on its own, even for the region’s most experienced hikers. But, how can you take it to the extreme? Simple: Do them all in winter. Joining that elite (and very short) list of hardy hikers requires a special skill set, gear closet, and determination that many lack. Depending on the weather, trail conditions, and other factors, any of these peaks can be perilous to climb in winter. So, here are a few of the biggest challenges, and some tips to make it to the top.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Katahdin

Baxter State Park, Maine

Katahdin is a steep granite cirque in Maine’s Baxter State Park that includes a few different summits, the highest of which is Baxter Peak. Tagging Maine’s highest peak in winter means slogging through a grueling two-day, 13-mile approach across the park’s closed access roads (typically with expedition sleds) to Roaring Brook, and then another 3.3 miles uphill to Chimney Pond. Be prepared for consistent sub-zero temperatures and frequent avalanche danger.

To increase your chance of success, plan early to obtain reservations at the bunkhouses in Roaring Brook and Chimney Pond, rather than tenting. Have a strong group, and give yourself enough time in the park to wait for a favorable weather window to attack the summit. Use the Saddle Trail or the more challenging Cathedral Trail to ascend from Chimney Pond. If your endurance and the weather allow you to summit, you will reach one of the East Coast’s most beautiful mountains.

Courtesy: Matt's Hikes
Courtesy: Matt’s Hikes

Mount Redington

Carrabassett Valley, Maine

Home to one of the least-traveled of the Northeast’s unmarked trails, Redington is a difficult enough climb in the summer. While not especially challenging in terms of bushwhacking, reaching the summit involves a few key unmarked turns and forks on old logging roads. In the winter, you should bring a GPS or a friend who has climbed it before.

The closure of Caribou Valley Road to cars in winter means you should either ski to the crossing of the Appalachian Trail or start where the AT meets Route 16. Either way, you will travel the AT to South Crocker Mountain before beginning the 1.2-mile unmarked trek off the AT to Redington’s summit. Read the stretch’s description carefully in the AMC’s Maine Mountain Guide. To make sure you have arrived, look for an old white canister strapped to a tree on the summit.

Trail signs on the top of Mount Adams. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Trail signs on the top of Mount Adams. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Mount Adams

White Mountains, New Hampshire

While Mount Washington is the King of the Presidential Range and home to some of the nation’s worst weather, its neighbor to the north, Mount Adams, is another worthy challenge. And, in winter, climbing the exposed summit requires the same precautions and gear. You will ascend nearly 4,500 feet, with almost 1,000 feet of that above treeline. Climb the steeper Air Line Trail from the AT in order to take in the majestic views of King Ravine. Then, descend using the easier Valley Way Trail.

Courtesy: Wayfarer
Courtesy: Wayfarer

Owl’s Head Mountain

White Mountains, New Hampshire

A trip to this peak involves over 18 miles of travel. This trek may include sometimes-dangerous water crossings, unmarked bushwhack approaches, and a slide climb, so make sure river conditions are good and you’re comfortable on steep and icy terrain. Many prefer to utilize the Black Pond bushwhack route on their approach. Be sure to proceed the additional 0.2 miles north from the old summit clearing to the new summit proper to make it official.

The one saving grace here is the flat and very well maintained (but rather boring) 2.6-mile section of the Lincoln Woods Trail. You’ll pass through when you start and finish your journey from the trailhead at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Information Center. Overall, Owl’s Head has a very remote wilderness feel to it that makes the long day worthwhile.

Courtesy: LakePlacid.com
Courtesy: LakePlacid.com

Allen Mountain

Adirondack Mountains, New York

Allen offers a little bit of everything. There are several river crossings, winding meadows, woods climbing opportunities, and a steep slide climb finale. Due to its roughly 18-mile round-trip distance, it’s sometimes confusing to approach. As well, because of the deep snow often faced on Allen Brook’s final, very steep slabs, this one can be challenging. Luckily, the DEC recently replaced a long-destroyed bridge over the Opalescent River, alleviating a fording concern.

In addition, the state purchased new lands surrounding the peak. So, future hikers should stay tuned to new routes potentially opening up. For now, start at a trailhead located a mile from the end of Upper Works Road, off Tahawus Road. Follow the trail to Flowed Lands via Hanging Spear Falls for just under four miles. Soon, break right onto the unmarked but well-traveled and obvious herd path to the base of the slide and straight up to the summit ridge. Enjoy the beautiful views of Panther Gorge and the High Peaks to the north from a lookout located just beyond the formal summit.

Courtesy: LakePlacid.com
Courtesy: LakePlacid.com

Seward Range

Adirondack Mountains, New York

Any time of the year, the Sewards are a challenging hike, but the closure of Corey’s Road adds 3.5 miles each way. Depending on conditions, consider skiing this long stretch in and out. Added to this are the Western Adirondacks’ deep snows and some sparsely marked trails, and these peaks, as a result, become a major challenge. You should plan an early start, use the Calkins Brook approach, and be sure to research the route.

The Calkins Brook approach will bring you to the ridge near Mount Donaldson. This path allows you to “T” the ridge, tagging Emmons to the right (south), and Seward to the left (north). The range’s isolation and remoteness have a wonderful feel in winter, but their rewards demand a long day of effort. Unless you are exceptionally fit or planning an overnight, avoid the temptation to add nearby Seymour Mountain.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Basin Mountain

Adirondacks, New York

Basin lies deep in the Eastern High Peaks’ Great Range. This means there are only a few ways up, and all involve long approaches and very rugged terrain. In addition, several steep ledges, frozen ladders, and frequent ice bulges make this trek particularly difficult in winter. As with many of these peaks, it’s valuable to carry a general mountaineering ice axe to assist with some tricky sections.

For a greater challenge, consider adding Saddleback Mountain to create a larger loop hike. Or, for the expert HaBaSa route, include Haystack within your itinerary. Be aware, though, that this will add obstacles to an already-difficult trek up Basin Mountain: for instance, Saddleback’s cliffs and Little Haystack’s icy ledges. Typically, an approach starts from the Garden Trailhead, travels past Johns Brook Lodge, and then climbs past Slant Rock, and on up the Great Range Trail. If the skies are clear, some wonderful views of the likely-more-crowded Mount Haystack and Mount Marcy, along with many other High Peaks, are yours for the taking.

 

Do you have another peak that you think is even harder? Let us know in the comments!


8 Gifts for the Après-Ski All-Star

Après-ski is an integral part of any day spent sliding on snow. So, whether the skier or rider on your list will be cozying up to the slopeside bar or popping beers in the parking lot, here are some items that will take your ski bum from après zero to après hero.

1. Get the bottles popping

While smart skiers and riders always carry a small set of tools for those just-in-case moments, savvy après-skiers believe that motto applies off the hill, too. So, if that someone on your list is always fiddling with a lighter, trying to open that bottle of delicious craft beer, try the Leatherman Brewzer Multitool. It features a bottle opener, can be attached to a keychain, is both perfectly priced and sized for stuffing into any stocking, and, most importantly, will help them avoid a trip to the emergency room for stitches.

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2. Hydrate in bulk

Sometimes, bottles or cans aren’t enough. The Hydro Flask 32-ounce Beer Growler is designed to keep your cold ones…well, cold. This growler also features the Fresh Carry System, which allows beer to stay carbonated—perhaps the best advancement since rocker skis.

3. Cold on and off the slopes

Owners of more traditional glass growlers will want to make sure their beverage stays cool with the Outdoor Research Growler Parka. The OR Growler Parka protects precious après ales from the cold and cushions delicate 64-ounce glass containers from the shuffling of ski gear.

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4. Keep it quiet

Some après situations require discretion. Featuring a timeless look and insulating design, the Stanley Classic Vacuum Pint is ready for just those occasions. The skier on your list won’t raise suspicions, but they may raise the eyebrows of other après aficionados. As a side note, Stanley has been in business for over a century, making it slightly older than the oldest still-operational ski resort in the U.S.

5. Why wait?

Every now and again, skiers and riders start their après activities early. The Nalgene Flask, featuring a cap that doubles as a shot glass and a parka-friendly size, is perfect for just those occasions. To never miss the chance at a chairlift cheers or a toast in the trees, the skier on your list needs only to fill the flask with their favorite beverage.

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6. Look the part

Even the biggest ski bums can get classy from time to time. As such, the GSI Outdoors Stemless Wine Glass is a must-have accessory for days when Pinot Noir replaces PBR. With a low center of gravity for stability—like being balanced on a tailgate—and built for rugged use, these wine glasses can stand up to bigger drops and bumps than the skier-on-your-list’s knees.

7. Bring your treasure chest

Ideal for weekends at the ski house and for hardcore ski bums living the van life, the Yeti Tundra 50 is to coolers what Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller are to Olympic skiers: the gold standard. With room to hold enough drinks for everyone, the Yeti will stand up to whatever the skier on your list can throw at it—whether it’s skiing a hundred days in a season, trying to ski all 12 months of the year, or just surviving the annual ski trip.

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8. On the rocks

If beer and wine aren’t your skier’s thing, the Hydro Flask Rocks Glass has you covered from cocktails to cocoa. It’s insulated to keep drinks hot and cold and comes with a lid to protect your beverage from the elements. And, the beveled bottom is glorious for your gloved-grip.

 

These are only some of the awesome après items EMS is stocking this year. Drop into your local store or search online for other amazing gifts for the ski bum on your list.


Winter-Summer Pairings: Shoulder Season Multisport Days

As we head into spring, many outdoor people find themselves conflicted on which sports to pursue. Should they get a head start on their favorite summer activities? Or, should they wring the last bit of life out of their favorite winter sports? Around this time each year, I find myself torn between the desire to get back on the trails (or rock) and—with the knowledge that, once the snow melts, it will be months before I can ski again—my love for spring corn. Luckily, New England is full of great opportunities for those of us who can’t decide what we want to do.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Bag a 4,000-footer and ski the resort

New England springs often offer cold nights and warm days. This means the snow is firm in the morning and soft in the afternoon, so the ski trails aren’t always in prime condition until later in the day.

Waterville Valley is perfect for days like this! With the Tecumseh Trail leading directly from the Waterville Valley parking lot to Mount Tecumseh’s summit, you can tag a 4,000-footer in the morning and ski in the afternoon. Being the shortest of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers, Mount Tecumseh is one of the easier hikes to tick off your list (roughly six miles round trip and with 2,500 feet of elevation gain). This leaves you with plenty of energy to enjoy the steep runs located off Waterville’s aptly named Sunnyside Triple trail in the afternoon.

Cliip a Dee Doo Dah (5.3) at Rumney. | Credit: Tim Peck
Cliip a Dee Doo Dah (5.3) at Rumney. | Credit: Tim Peck

2. Ski and send

Over the years, Cannon Mountain has developed a loyal following of skiers and boarders more interested in amazing terrain than in on-mountain amenities. If you’re like me and consider a chairlift an amenity, they even offer an $8 uphill pass that allows you to skip the lifts and skin uphill on designated trails. Even better, in good seasons, the mountain will close for the year with an abundance of snow still on it, offering great skiing for only the price of the calories and sweat it takes to get you to the top of it.

Coming from south of Franconia Notch in the spring, I love to blend a morning of earning my turns at Cannon Mountain with clipping bolts at Rumney on the way home. With an abundance of crags close to the parking lot, many of which get great afternoon sun, this trip is the perfect way to bid farewell to skiing and usher in climbing.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Mount Wachusett, multisport playground

For years, I was lucky enough to live close to Mount Wachusett in Princeton, Massachusetts. While the mountain may be limited in terrain, it is in no way limited in opportunities for an incredible multisport spring day. Whether you’re skinning up the mountain before it opens, riding the lifts, or lucky enough to be getting turns after it has closed for the season, the skiing is almost always fun. As well, the mountain’s more limited terrain won’t have you feeling like you’re missing out as you leave to pursue other activities.

Much like Mount Tecumseh, Mount Wachusett’s summit is attainable simply by following trails leaving from the ski resort’s parking lot. Combining a morning on the slopes with a quick trek to the summit is a fantastic way to get your hiking legs under you without missing a chance to ski the soft spring snow. My favorite route has always been following the Balance Rock Trail to the Semuhenna Trail to the Harrington Trail to the summit.

Of course, as good as Mount Wachusett’s hiking trails are, the roads surrounding the mountain are basically tailor-made for cycling. After a morning on the slopes, I love to challenge myself with any number of loop rides that start in the ski resort’s parking lot and climb over the mountain. I like to descend Route 140 and hook up with Route 62. From Route 62, you can connect with Mountain Road to climb up and over Mount Wachusett.

If combining hiking or biking with skiing isn’t interesting enough for you, Mount Wachusett is also located only a few minutes down the road from Crow Hill, one of Massachusetts’ oldest and most notorious crags, and is roughly an hour away from some of New England’s most popular bouldering at Lincoln Woods in Rhode Island.

Although I am not big on playing in the water, one of my friends insists the ultimate multisport opportunity afforded by Mount Wachusett is the chance to play on frozen water in the morning and moving water in the afternoon. For those that don’t know, Mount Wachusett is roughly an hour away from popular surf spots in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

 

While spring is the season in which we say goodbye to our favorite winter sports and welcome in our summer activities of choice, there are a few magical weeks where your outdoor options are almost unlimited, making it perfect for the person who wants to do everything.


Small on Vertical, Big on Fun: Beat the Crowds at These Small New England Ski Resorts

For those who cut their teeth skiing eastern mountains, the long row of red tail lights leading to a resort is an all-too-familiar sight. In most cases, you hit your first line before even buckling your boots.

To some extent, crowds are just a fact of Northeastern skiing, especially at the larger resorts and always on the weekends. But, instead of going big, why not opt for a smaller mountain with local history, a lower price, fewer crowds, and arguably better conditions? Here is the low down on some lesser-known resorts in New England that completely deliver.

Courtesy of Camden Snow Bowl
Courtesy of Camden Snow Bowl

Camden Snow Bowl

The Camden Snow Bowl, a community-owned ski mountain located in Camden, Maine, is fairly small—offering just 105 skiable acres and 845 vertical feet. Despite its short stature, it has amazing views and one of the only New England peaks where you can see the ocean.

What the Snow Bowl lacks in size, it makes up for in character, and you will be glad to catch a glimpse of what skiing was like before the days of multi-peak resorts. For example, the snow bowl hosts a historic A-frame lodge at its base which opened in 1936 during the Great Depression.

The resort has something for everyone, and this mountain is great if you have a few friends at varying skill levels. Nearly all the more difficult trails from the summit lift have well-maintained glades between them, and here, skiing the trees is a pleasure rather than a liability. Interested in getting more comfortable with backcountry conditions? The intermediate Scrimshaw or Connie’s Light glades are great places to get your feet wet.

If tree skiing isn’t for you, take a relaxing cruise down the mile-long Spinnaker trail. The mountain’s small size allows your party to split up, run after run, but easily meet at the base for the next one.

Shawnee Mountain | Credit: Chris Sferra
Shawnee Peak | Credit: Christopher O. Sferra

Shawnee Peak

Founded in 1938, Shawnee Peak is the ideal mountain for Portland locals to jam in a last-minute day trip. Located in the foothills of the White Mountains in Bridgton, Maine, Shawnee offers a surprisingly big mountain feel (1,300 vertical feet and 245 skiable acres) for a small mountain price.

When the snow starts falling in the morning, do yourself a favor: Leave work early to “sneak to the peak” and catch some great turns on the empty trails. Don’t worry about arriving late in the day; starting at 3:30 p.m., inexpensive evening tickets allow you to hit 19 lit slopes until 8 or 9 o’clock.

If a day trip is not in the cards, Shawnee has a yurt and several cabins for a rustic ski-on-ski-off experience. At the summit, catch impressive views of the Whites and Moose Pond as the sun sinks towards the horizon.

Shawnee’s accessibility combined with its ample night skiing terrain makes it a great mid-week destination if you want to catch some fresh snow before it gets skied off.

Cranmore Mountain | Credit: Dan Houde
Cranmore Mountain | Credit: Dan Houde

Cranmore Mountain

Nestled in the town of North Conway, New Hampshire, Cranmore Mountain is home to over 170 skiable acres and 1,200 vertical feet, making it a great, less-expensive option to other White Mountain resorts.

What makes Cranmore stand out is its wide-set layout serviced by three lifts to the peak, which keep lines at bay. While some might be drawn in by the high-speed quad, avoid crowds and poor conditions by hitting the skier’s right of the mountain for more difficult and left for intermediate terrain, both serviced by triple lifts. Take the North Conway trail to visit Cranmore’s signature glacial erratic boulder and catch noteworthy views of Mt. Washington.

 

What separates these smaller locations is, the surrounding towns did not grow up around them, but rather, the resorts developed out of these communities. The mountains might be missing some of larger resorts’ bells and whistles, but you are sure to have a skiing experience steeped in New England culture, community, and charm.