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

Download

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!


Video: 2018/19 Audi FIS Ski World Cup Trailer

The FIS Ski World Cup is coming to Killington again this month!


Opinion: Is Fleece Dead?

In the not-so-distant past, fleeces of varying weights and purposes stuffed our closets and backpacks. You needed stretch fleeces, with their enhanced mobility, for climbing in cool weather, Windstopper fleece for above-treeline scrambles, and trusty 300-weight fleeces just to leave the house in winter. Of course, microfleece suited your summer escapes and offered an outdoorsy alternative to sweaters in winter. In recent years, though, a host of new insulation choices have crowded the fleece out of our closets. In response, we’ve asked ourselves, “Is fleece totally dead?”

EMS-Burlington-2314

There are far superior technical outer layers…

Fleece is no longer the premier technical outer layer. That much we know for certain, for three main reasons.

Better Fits and Packability

First, packability. When some of us started hiking, climbing, and skiing, down coats packed reasonably well. But, put one on, and you immediately resembled the Michelin Man. The synthetic coats of the day cut a slimmer profile, but packed about as well as fleece.

By contrast, today’s down coats use super-high quality down to create the same amount of warmth, without making it look like you’re impersonating the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, while taking up far less pack space. As well, jackets with synthetic insulation now provide a less-bulky fit and have begun to rival down in terms of packability. Fleece outer layers? They still don’t pack well. And, who really wants to carry a giant pack solely to accommodate a technical fleece jacket?

Lighter Weights

Second, options. Much like the fleeces of the past, available in a wide variety of weights and features, down and synthetic jackets now come in an incredible range of sizes and styles. You’ll find everything from ultralight insulation, like the Arc’teryx Atom SL (men’s/women’s), to heavyweight pieces, like Marmot’s Men’s Guides Down and Women’s Aruna hoodies. Because of this, puffies have replaced fleece everywhere, from slightly cool summer summits to bitterly cold winter belays. Companies are even developing hybrids, like the EMS Impact Hybrid Jacket (men’s/women’s), which combines active insulation with lightweight, stretchy materials to keep weight down and packability up.

More Tech Features

Third, wicking. Within the outdoor community, fleece has long remained a staple for one significant reason: It keeps you warm, all while wicking away sweat. However, the advent of active insulation diversified the options offered. As such, today’s synthetic jackets provide more warmth, offer comparable breathability, and pack better than fleeces of similar weights. For these reasons, puffy vests are a four-season staple for us. As well, you’ll rarely find us in the mountains during winter without an active insulation-based midlayer, such as the EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch Jacket.

While active insulation has fueled the growth of synthetic options, technological advancements have further targeted common issues associated with down – most notably, its susceptibility to water. Hydrophobic down—down that’s resistant to water—and DWR (durable water repellent) treated shells on coats like the EMS Feather Pack (men’s/women’s) have helped minimize this insulation’s Achilles’ heel. No longer pigeon-holed for dry climates, down coats are now commonly used in soggy environments, like the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast.

All that said, abrasion resistance still gives fleece a leg up. It’s comparatively harder to tear.

EMS-Burlington-1100

…But, don’t be fleeced into thinking it’s dead just yet

Despite synthetic and down insulation filling many of its former roles, we’re not ready to bury fleece just yet. Stretch fleeces, like the EMS Equinox Power Stretch Hoodie (men’s/women’s), are staples of our ice climbing and in-bound ski kits. In addition to being great for cold-weather pursuits, its adaptable design is a must-have for fall cragging. It’s also hard to beat the next-to-skin fuzzy texture of The North Face’s Campshire (men’s/women’s), especially when you’re wearing it around town. Lastly, a cozy microfleece lets you keep up appearances and stay warm while kicking back after a hard day playing outdoors.

For these reasons, fleece isn’t leaving our gear closet just yet.


Video: The First Descent of K2 on Skis

It turns out, the hardest big mountain in the world to climb is not all that simple to ski, either.


Alpha Guide: Mount Greylock's Thunderbolt Trail

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Steep, short, and scenic—a hike to Mount Greylock’s summit via the Thunderbolt Trail is the most direct way to the highest point in Massachusetts.

Hiking to the summit of Mount Greylock via the Thunderbolt Trail takes you through some of the East Coast’s most hallowed ski terrain and across the rugged Appalachian Trail, and is the steepest and shortest route to the highest point in Massachusetts.

Quick Facts

Distance: 4.8 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day for most
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: Year-round. Best from May through October
Fees/Permits: None.
Contact: https://www.mass.gov/locations/mount-greylock-state-reservation

Download

Turn-By-Turn

To access the Thunderbolt trailhead, hikers can park in nearly adjacent lots on Thiel Road and Gould Road in Adams, Massachusetts. To get there from North Adams, the major jumping-off point for anybody heading to Greylock, take Route 8 south for about two miles, and then, make a right onto Friend Street at a rotary. After a mile, Friend Street merges into Notch Road. About 0.5 miles later, turn right onto Gould Street, and then, either continue straight for side-of-the-road parking on Thiel Road or make a quick left into the signed hiker parking lot on Gould Road.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Into the Woods

From either lot, finding the right trail is tricky. There’s a maze of intersecting trails in and around the parking lots, and the way to Thunderbolt is not always clearly marked.

For the easiest route, hike for roughly 10 minutes up the closed (to vehicles) section of Thiel Road, first on pavement and then on a gravel path, until you come to a sign (42.627598, -73.137497) directing hikers to Thunderbolt.

From the sign, navigation is still a bit strenuous, with the narrow trail winding through thick woods and dense ferns. Enjoy this short section, as it easily picks up elevation. You’ll soon approach the ski trail proper, (42.636150, -73.137497) where the trail opens up and the grade intensifies.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Ski Trail

The Thunderbolt foot trail ascends along the side of the Thunderbolt Ski Trail, and it’s easy to know when you’ve reached its base. Here, the dense forest immediately transitions into a wide, open swath of green running straight up the mountain. The Thunderbolt Ski Trail climbs consistently, with few interruptions—among them, the juncture with the Bellows Pipe Trail (42.637295, -73.154152) and the intersection with the Appalachian Trail (42.642410, -73.161797).

That said, the footing is good, the path is easy to follow, and there are a good number of rest spots where the trail briefly levels out. When you need to catch your breath, make sure to turn around and enjoy the view back east, with Adams in the foreground and the Hoosac Range on the horizon.

Pro Tip: Although lots of trails intersect with the Thunderbolt trail and many of the junctions aren’t signed, knowing that you should be hugging the ski trail makes it harder to get off route.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Joining the AT

After one final steep section, Thunderbolt levels out briefly before intersecting with the Appalachian Trail. Before ascending to the junction, make sure to pause to appreciate the spectacular view to the northeast. You’ll know you’re there when you see the first aid cache in the woods to climber’s right.

At the junction, follow the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes south another half-mile to the summit. The going is easy and relaxed, with only a slight incline. After a few minutes, hikers will cross the auto road, and then, spill into one of Greylock’s tourist parking lots.

Upon entering the lot, look to the right for the Thunderbolt shelter (42.638737, -73.0145218), an impressive stone warming hut built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1934. Originally intended as a place for ski racers to warm up and prepare for their run—remember, back then, racers had to get to the top of the run via their own power—the hut is dedicated to Rudolph Konieczny, a soldier killed in action while fighting with the 10th Mountain Division’s ski troop in northern Italy in 1945. Although, today, the shelter is primarily a tourist attraction and an emergency shelter for winter travelers, it is one of the summit’s several somber memorials.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

From the hut, the actual summit is only a short jaunt away. Simply rejoin the Appalachian Trail and follow the gravel, and then paved, path a bit farther south. Pretty soon, you’ll be on the summit proper (42.636898, -73.165527), which, in 1898, became the centerpiece of the first state park in Massachusetts.

As you approach the summit, Greylock’s 93-foot granite memorial to the Commonwealth’s war veterans—built by the CCC in the 1930s—looms overhead. If it’s open, make sure to go in to pay your respects. Then, climb the tower’s spiral staircase to a viewing observatory, which offers 360-degree views of the region. To the north, look for North Adams in the foreground and New York’s Adirondacks and Vermont’s Green Mountains in the distance. Looking east, mountains and hills are everywhere; try to pick out Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire. Turning south and west, you’ll see the Berkshires, the Catskills, and the Hudson River Valley.

There are a lot of other things to do on the summit. In addition to the Thunderbolt Ski Hut, there’s the Bascom Lodge. Perched nearly on Greylock’s summit, the lodge is another minute south on the AT. Made using local schist and red spruce, the lodge was built in the 1930s by the CCC to offer shelter to summit visitors. Today, it features a restaurant and cafe, provides seasonal accommodations, and is even available for weddings and private events. Whether you’re grabbing a meal inside or having a snack at the nearby picnic tables, the Bascom Lodge is the perfect place to linger on the summit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Return

To return to your car from the summit, simply retrace your steps back down the way you came. Of course, as you pass by signs noting iconic sections of the Thunderbolt Ski Trail, such as Big Bend, Big Schuss, and The Bumps, try not to get too distracted thinking about how much more fun (and faster) it would be on skis.

If you didn’t know, the Thunderbolt Trail was originally built as a ski trail (also by the CCC) and is rich with New England ski history. For example, Dick Durrance, the 17-time national champion ski racer who won the first race held on the Thunderbolt Trail in 1935, descended in just two minutes and 48 seconds—a time that feels especially fast to hikers anxious to get back to their cars.

It’s also worth noting that, while the Thunderbolt Trail is open to hikers all year, winter hikers are encouraged to ascend where others already have to preserve the snow for skiers.

The Cheat Route

If you have someone who would like to experience Mount Greylock’s summit with you but is unable to ascend the approximately 2,200 feet of elevation over roughly 2.5 miles, have them meet you at the top. The Greylock auto road allows cars to drive to the summit from May through October. Just know there’s a small fee to park at the summit.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Saying the Thunderbolt Trail is steep feels like an understatement, especially considering that, at its steepest, the trail pitches to 38 degrees. Make ascending and descending a little bit easier by bringing a pair of trekking poles.
  • Plan for your trip up and ensure you stay on track with the Mount Greylock Reservation Map. Mount Greylock State Reservation has over 12,000 acres and is home to roughly 50 miles of trails, so there’s plenty left to do after your successful summit.
  • While the origins of the Greylock name are up for debate, one popular theory is, it refers to the mountain’s appearance. Often, it has a gray cloud—or lock of gray mist—overhead. This has certainly been our experience, so don’t forget to pack a raincoat (men’s/women’s) for the summit.
  • 360-degree views and plenty of places to avoid inclement weather make for an unrushed experience on the summit. Treat yourself by bringing something warm to eat in the winter, or cool for the summer with a Hydro Flask Food Flask.
  • With so many steep pitches ahead of you, having a good-fitting pair of performance socks is critical for avoiding blisters. Pick a pair made from a wicking material, such as merino wool, to keep your feet happy.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Before heading to the mountain, get some local knowledge at the staffed Visitors Center in Lanesborough, which is open all year.
  • Spend the night at one of Mount Greylock’s 18 tent sites, or in one of the five lean-tos found on the mountain. Learn more here.
  • Looking to grab a pint and absorb a little culture? Bright Ideas Brewing serves delicious brews and is located in the courtyard of the Mass Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA).
  • Dogs are welcome to hike Mount Greylock’s trails, as long as they’re leashed and attended. However, if you had to leave Fido home and are missing man’s best friend, stop by the Museum of Dog (M.O.D.). Located just down the street from Mass MoCA, M.O.D. features more than 180 pieces from roughly 50 notable, dog-loving artists. Ironically, dogs are not allowed inside M.O.D.
  • Visit the Thunderbolt Ski Museum in the Adams Visitor Center to learn more about the history of this storied ski run.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Mount Greylock recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


What is a Lumen? Shining a Light on Headlamps

Choosing the right headlamp can be daunting. From a wall full of lights that all look similar, covered in numbers that mean next to nothing, how do you pick the right one? To begin, understanding the lumen is the first step toward getting what you need. But, there’s more to know if you want to have the perfect headlamp for your next adventure.

So…what is it?

A lumen is the technical measurement of the amount of light emitted in all directions by a light source. More simply, a lumens rating indicates how bright a headlamp will shine with a fully charged battery. The more lumens a light has, the brighter it is.

Headlamps and other lights run the gamut of brightness. You’ll find anything from the 30-lumen, kid-friendly Black Diamond Wiz to the ultra-powerful, 750-lumen Petzl NAO+. The great thing about these headlamps is, they all have enough lumens for general use. Even those with the lowest lumen count provide enough illumination for an evening stroll around the campsite or a storm-bound day spent in the tent reading.

EMS - BIG SUR -1934-Camping

How many lumens do I need?

But, for other activities, you might need more lumens. So, how many should you get? The answer to that question is activity dependent. For movement-based activities, like night hiking or backpacking, a headlamp with a minimum of 150 to 200 lumens is best. There are exceptions, of course, like hiking the Presidential Range under a supermoon.

For faster-paced activities when you need to see farther ahead so you don’t trip (think nighttime trail-running), a light with more than 250 lumens is ideal. And, for activities like alpine climbing and mountaineering, when you might need a really bright light to briefly scope the next pitch or skirt some sketchy terrain, a lamp with a super-bright option (e.g., more than 350 lumens) will be really useful.

Most major manufacturers list a headlamp’s lumens on its package. It’s worth noting, however, that the majority will only be able to reach that number with fully charged batteries. More so, the higher power at which you operate your headlamp, the more battery power it consumes. Thus, it may make more sense to use a lower brightness to conserve battery life, rather than operate at the full 300 lumens.

Does the ability to adjust brightness interest you? To begin, make sure to check out the lights in Petzl’s Active series, like the Petzl Actik Core. A few Black Diamond models fall into this group, including the Icon and ReVolt.

EMS-Winter-Camp-Kitchen-4122

So, lumen count is the only thing that matters. Right?

All that said, lumen count isn’t the be-all, end-all. It’s also important to consider how the headlamp directs the lumens. Generally referred to as the headlamp’s “beam,” the focusing of the lumens—from pinpoint to diffuse—greatly influences the activities for which the headlamp is ideal.

Types of Beams

A good example of a “general use” model is the 300-lumen Petzl Actik, which lets you toggle between wide and regular beams. Toggling makes the Actik ideal for use around the campsite, where the regular beam is perfect for precision tasks like cooking. The wide beam, meanwhile, is key for navigating around a site without blinding your fellow campers.

Alternately, a headlamp like the 300-lumen Black Diamond Spot has a more focused beam. Thus, it’s ideal for people doing precision work in the dark. Threading rappel anchors after being benighted, checking a climbing partner’s knot before an alpine start, and searching your pack for a midnight snack are all occasions where you benefit from a focused beam.

Some headlamps, such as the Black Diamond Sprinter—built for runners—are engineered to excel at one specific task. The Sprinter uses neither a wide, diffused light nor a concentrated proximity light. Rather, it produces a strong oval beam that is bright enough to illuminate potential hazards on the road or the trail, and shines far enough ahead so that you can anticipate upcoming terrain.

Reactive Lighting

A clear sign of just how far headlamps have advanced in recent years is Petzl’s reactive light technology. These advanced headlamps, like the Petzl Reactik, use a sensor to analyze the amount of ambient light in your environment, and adjust the brightness accordingly. This feature is particularly useful: It ensures you’re receiving just the right amount of light, it uses the headlamp’s battery as efficiently as possible, and it reduces any fiddling with buttons or dials. You can even control the Reactik’s settings via an app to prioritize everything from battery power to brightness.

Courtesy: Black Diamond
Courtesy: Black Diamond

Out Like a Light

The best thing about buying a headlamp at EMS is that there are no bad choices. Almost every model found on our shelves will provide enough lumens for whatever task you ask of it. And, for those looking for a headlamp to perform in a specific instance, manufacturers are rising to the occasion to fill those niches.


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.


10 Tips for Backcountry Skiing This Spring

Although most people consider skiing a winter sport, true aficionados of sliding on snow know that the season’s best turns often occur during the spring. While ski resorts celebrate the season with Gaper-Days and pond skims, backcountry skiers enjoy not just the milder weather, but also everything from fewer crowds to a more stable snowpack. So, with longer days and warmer temperatures on the horizon, here are some tips for making the best out of one of skiing season’s best parts.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Location, location, location

The Northeast is replete with outstanding backcountry options for spring skiers. Mount Moosilauke and the Cog on Mount Washington are great intermediate spots, as is Vermont’s Camel’s Hump. In Maine, Sugarloaf Mountain offers backcountry-like skiing, accessed via touring gear or snowshoes on Burnt Mountain. Just don’t forget to buy an uphill pass. And, of course, spring in Tuckerman Ravine is a rite of passage for every New England skier. Pro Tip: Go on a weekday, so you don’t have to enjoy it with every other New Englander.

2. Play the conditions game

There’s nothing worse than driving a couple hours to the mountains, only to find that the snow has already melted. Before you settle on a location, do some research. For forecasted areas, like Tuckerman Ravine, read the avalanche forecast. It typically hints at skiing quality, too. For the rest, between Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you should be able to figure it out.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

3. Wherever you go, start early

In spring, snow typically melts during the day and freezes at night, and within this cycle, the best runs happen when the snow has softened but hasn’t become slushy. An early start is often necessary, as you want to be at the top of your run to take advantage of that magic moment. It’s better to be on top of a line too early, rather than too late, as you can always wait for the snow to soften.

4. Protect your skins

Nothing kills the uphill pace (and stoke) faster than waterlogged skins. In addition to being heavy, they attract snow, causing it to build up on your ski’s underside. Pretty soon, you’ll be off on the side of the skin track, scraping snow off your skin. To avoid the indignity, treat your skins the night before with a skin wax, like Black Diamond’s Glob Stopper. Also, make sure at least one person in your group tucks a bar into their pack before hitting the trail.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Protect your other skin

The only thing worse than turning red from the indignity of scraping your skins is the red you’ll turn if you forget sunblock. The spring sun might not feel strong, but the skin on your ski isn’t only what needs protection. Snow reflects the sun up at you, exposing you to its intensity from above and below. So, be sure to apply sunscreen before arriving at the trailhead and throughout the day.

6. Just say no to postholing

Soft spring snow is especially prone to postholing, which is the quickest way ruin a skin track or ski run—and get yourself exiled from the local backcountry ski community. Postholing is particularly egregious in the spring, since the likelihood of a storm undoing the damage is low. Prevent postholing by traveling on skis designed for touring, by splitboarding, or by using snowshoes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

 

7. Find the shades

The reflected sun also poses a threat to your eyes. Fortunately, on many spring days, sunglasses are suitable for both the ascent and the descent. Get a good polarized pair, and say goodbye to goggle tan lines.

8. Drink up

Spring’s warmer temperatures typically mean more sweating while touring, and more sweat increases your chances of dehydration. During the spring, get in the habit of bringing more water with you and stopping more frequently to drink than you would in the winter, or consider using a hydration bladder. While these can be difficult in the freezing cold, spring’s warmer days make them a reliable option.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

9. Don’t forget the puffy coat

Spring skiing in the backcountry often exposes you to two entirely different seasons, with summer weather in the parking lot and winter at the top of your run. Because of this, we regularly tuck a puffy (or two) into our packs. It’s lightweight and always a welcome sight when you wander into winter.

10. Wax your skis

Speaking of snow conditions, earning your turns loses a lot of its enjoyment when you suffer from sticky skis on the descent. Having a freshly waxed pair, then, is especially beneficial in slushy spring snow. Even better, wax your skis with a warm-weather wax to avoid those grabby moments. Interested in tuning your skis at home? Check out this goEast article for some great tuning tips.

 

Spring ski season frequently comes to an abrupt end in the Northeast, as seemingly huge snowpacks melt out over the course of a few days. Because of this, every spring ski day is precious, so follow these tips to make the most out of the season’s last hurrah!


Outings for a Presidents' Day in the Presidentials

Presidents’ Day falls on the third Monday of every February. In the Northeast, New Hampshire’s White Mountains make the perfect place to celebrate the holiday. Home to nine 4,000-footers named after past Presidents, they offer numerous outdoor activities with a historical connection. So, whether you’re looking to ski, climb, or hike, here’s how to have a genuinely Presidential Presidents’ Day.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Forget the White House – Visit the White Room

Presidents’ Day originated in the 1880s to commemmorate George Washington’s birthday. For those looking to slide on snow while also honoring the nation’s first President, the slopes of Mount Washington deliver something for everyone.

The Sherburne Ski Trail, often called “the Sherbie,” links the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center with HoJo’s, the caretaker’s cabin at Hermit Lake. Dating back to the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal Legislation, built the Sherbie just for skiers. Considering the innovations since then, most will find the Sherbie sufficiently broad for turning and never extremely steep. As David Goodman notes in his book AMC Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast, the Sherburne never exceeds 24 degrees and is as much as 60 feet across at its widest point.

Although many advanced skiers view the Sherburne Trail as a quick way to descend from the steeper Tuckerman Ravine, it’s a worthy destination by itself. Because of its moderate pitch and tree-lined location, it’s a great place to head when the weather above treeline is unfavorable, if avalanche danger is high, or to just gain confidence on less-consequential terrain.

The trail, however, is for downhill use only. You can access it via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which also leaves Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Heading up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, skiers will notice various entry points to the Sherbie on their left. As another popular option, you can cut over below HoJo’s to avoid the trail’s flat upper portion.

Of course, the Sherbie is just one of Mount Washington’s fantastic ski routes. You can find other intermediate backcountry skiing along the Cog Railway, while the Gulf of Slides and the iconic Tuckerman Ravine present more advanced options.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Better than Climbing the Political Ladder  

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

In the 1970s, Congress officially moved Presidents’ Day to the third Monday of February to give federal workers more three-day weekends. But, many believe that the move also broadened the holiday’s scope by additionally commemorating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 15th). If you fall into this camp, get your presidential celebration started on Mount Lincoln.

While most people get to the summit via Franconia Ridge, ice climbing Lincoln’s Throat is the most direct way up. Viewed from a distance, Lincoln’s Throat is the pronounced gully between Lincoln and Lafayette that tops out on Franconia Ridge just below Lincoln’s summit.

The route also offers a bit of everything (except crowds) for alpine climbers. You’ll hike or bushwack off trail, do steep snow climbing, climb a single moderately rated WI3 ice pitch, and have the opportunity to summit a 4,000-footer. Or, if you choose to descend down the Old Bridle Path, you’ll get in two 4,000-footers.

If Lincoln Throat’s sole ice pitch isn’t fully formed, is rotten, or is over your head, consider alternatives. However, those involve mixed climbing, and not the type you’re thinking of. Instead of rock and ice, you’ll find krumholtz and snow. These might be less treacherous, but they’re also slower and more frustrating.

Consider making this trip early in the season or in low-snow years. But, if you’re going when heavy snow covers the ground, be sure to bring snowshoes, an avalanche kit, and the knowledge of how to navigate avalanche terrain.

Of course, if this President-worthy climb gives you a case of the willies, you can always check out the beginner-friendly Willey’s Slide in Crawford Notch. It’s not on a peak named after a President, but on a clear day, you’ll get a great view of the southern Presidentials.     

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Don’t Settle for Fake Views

Over time, the public consensus about Presidents’ Day has broadened even further. These days, we think of it as a celebration of all past Presidents. Fortunately, the White Mountains include eight more 4,000-foot peaks named after Presidents (Adams, Madison, Jefferson, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Garfield) or with a Presidential-sounding name. For the latter, Jackson is actually named after New Hampshire State Geologist Charles Jackson, not the seventh President, Andrew Jackson.

Of these, Mount Pierce—named after the only President born in New Hampshire—and Mount Garfield are both great options for a moderate day hike with fantastic views. For more of a challenge, Mount Adams (named after John Adams) is one of the Northeast 115’s toughest winter climbs. And, if you’re supremely motivated and the weather is good, consider attempting a Presidential Traverse. In one trip, you’ll hopefully bag Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson.

Although the President might spend his days in the White House, you can get out of the house, away from the office, and into the fresh air to honor our nation’s past leaders. Let us know how you spent your Presidents’ Day in the comments below.


Senior Superlatives: Valentine's Day Adventure Dates

Whether you’re looking to slide into romance, hike into their heart, or tie the knot this Valentine’s Day, consider one of these awesome outdoor-inspired trips to stoke the adventurous spirit—and the passion—between you and your special someone.

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Most Likely to Make Your Date Feel Like Royalty: Ice Castles, Lincoln, NH

Treat your significant other like the king or queen they are by surprising them with a trip to the Ice Castles in Lincoln, New Hampshire. If you tour the castles early, you can finish the day toasting to your relationship at Seven Birches Winery at the RiverWalk Resort less than a mile away. If wine tastings aren’t your thing, spend the day shredding the gnar at Loon Mountain instead, and hit the Ice Castles at night to see them all lit up. Once there, check out a fire dancing performance, and stay warm with cinnamon buns and cocoa.

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Best Place for a Romantic Outdoor Getaway: The Berkshires, Western MA

No matter what your winter sport of choice is—skiing or snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, or cross-country skiing—there are plenty of places to do it in the Berkshires. So, make Valentine’s Day last an entire weekend by treating your beloved snow bunny to a little bit of everything this winter wonderland has to offer: ski under the lights at Jiminy Peak on Friday night, hike Mount Greylock on Saturday, and then, spend a few hours Nordic skiing on trails designed by seven-time Olympian John Morton at Hilltop Orchards. And, be sure to end the weekend on a high note at Furnace Brook Winery while you’re there. Accommodations in the area range from quaint Rockwell-esque bed-and-breakfasts to lavish five-star resorts, making it easy to find the perfect place to turn up the romance (or just recover from the day’s activities) each night.

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Most Likely to Earn You a Gold Medal in Dating: Olympic Sports Complex, Lake Placid, NY

Much like the Berkshires, Lake Placid is basically a winter athlete’s paradise. In addition to world-class skiing and so many great winter hikes that it’ll be hard to choose which one (or two) you want to tackle, this cold-weather haven nestled in the heart of the Adirondacks takes it a few steps further with some of the best ice climbing in the northeast, miles and miles of fat biking trails, and, of course, the Olympic Sports Complex, where you can take a run in a real bobsled, take a biathlon lesson, or ice skate on the same rink the 1932 USA Men’s Speed Skating Team made history with a gold medal sweep. If a date here doesn’t get you a podium finish, nothing will.

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Coolest Date (Literally): Guided Mt. Washington Trip with EMS Schools

Bring your Valentine to the top of the world, or at least of New England, on one of the literally coolest dates ever: a winter ascent of Mount Washington with the EMS Climbing School. Bundle up and head to North Conway, New Hampshire to show the “world’s worst weather” that you’re not afraid of it. Because even if the snow is falling and the wind is blowing, it shows you can weather the storm; you’ve got your love to keep you warm.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Best Way to Warm Their Heart: With a Big, Fancy Rock…Climbing Trip in the South

Even people who truly enjoy winter eventually reach a point in which they’d like to escape it for a few days. If you and your honey are tired of the cold, use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to head south (or southwest) for a warm-weather climbing trip. I’m someone who is typically so anti-Valentine’s Day that my mom sends me a Halloween card every February 14th, but the year that my now-husband took me to Horse Pens 40 for a mid-February bouldering vacation was the best Valentine’s Day I can remember. In fact, I almost surprised him with a Vegas Valentine’s weekend to climb at Red Rocks this year, since we both loved climbing there so much last spring. If you’re into grand gestures, a trip like this is perfect…and even if it’s not the rock she was hoping for, I promise she’ll love it.