Video: The Chairlift

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10 Reasons To Finally Give Backcountry Skiing A Try

Don’t get us wrong: Ski resorts are great. But if you’ve ever been stuck behind dozens of people in a lift line, not so patiently waiting for your turn to get back on the slopes, thinking the “good” snow is being scraped away by everyone in line before you, you wouldn’t be alone. For me, making the jump into the backcountry was a product of being tired waiting in line, but the benefits go well beyond that. Not only can you skip the lines and ticket windows, but you’ll get a full workout in, and have lots more flexibility with time and your ski schedule. So why should you consider skiing uphill?

Credit: Luke Looman

1. It’s great exercise.

The biggest thing to like about uphill travel—whether you’re deep in the backcountry or just doing an uphill lap at the resort—is the amazing exercise it provides. When I’m on a steep pitch, almost to the end of my ascent, the burning in my lungs and legs and the exhaustion of the climb feels great. While this may prevent some from trying skinning, my fellow exercise junkies out there know that the sweat makes the experience even better because you’ve earned each of those turns.

2. You have more time flexibility.

For me, this seems more important than for most other skiers. I work rotating shifts so my schedule fluctuates, and my busy schedule usually doesn’t allow me to take a ski day. But since I don’t need to rely on a chairlift, I get turns in anytime, day or night. Just last week I did an uphill lap at my local ski area at midnight simply because that was the most convenient time for me. If you’re going to be uphilling at a resort, before heading out, always get familiar with the policies of your particular ski area and the hours they allow uphilling. They typically go well beyond the mountain’s life hours, but it’s worth knowing if there is a cutoff.

Credit: Luke Looman

3. Find more location variety.

Another big selling point for skinning is that all you need is a mountain and snow. Once you get better, you can explore different routes, and begin to challenge yourself with tougher terrain. Backcountry skiing has not confined me to one route like riding a chair lifts. And now, it’s exciting when I get to the top of a new ski line. I see a different view almost every time I go out, even if that view may not be as picturesque as the resorts, the feeling of exploration is unmatched by any chair lift rides.

4. Ride more terrain.

Resorts usually cater to families and tourists, and I have noticed their terrain options are limiting compared to backcountry skiing. There are only so many times I can ski yet another wide-open groomer before I crave some fun glades with their hidden, unexpected obstacles. In the backcountry, you’ll stumble on lines you never knew existed. The trees may tighten up, you might stumble upon an open field, or you may be headed straight towards a cliff (be careful!). Those surprises have proved rewarding to me when I find an exciting stretch of woods that let me find a good flow but also challenges my skill level.

Credit: Luke Looman

5. Ski through sunrises and sunsets.

Everyone loves a good sunrise or sunset, but if you’re confined to resort skiing, you rarely get the opportunity to ski during these picturesque moments. Skinning allows you to combine your favorite outdoor sport with a daily dose of natural beauty. Since uphill skiing is more arduous and takes a longer time, I end up stopping and enjoying the view more than I would have otherwise. The sunrise or sunset gives me an excuse to stop at the top and relish in the fact that I worked hard to get up there, while taking in a gorgeous view.

6. Make it as competitive or uncompetitive as you want.

If you’re competitive like me, knowing how quickly you can skin the local uphill route can increase bragging rights to your buddies. When someone tells me they made it up a mountain in a certain amount of time, it isn’t long before I’m getting packed up to try to beat that time. There is something special about being competitive in a difficult sport that makes it more rewarding.

Credit: Luke Looman

7. Combine camping with skiing.

For any crazies out there that enjoy winter camping, finding a good backcountry zone that allows camping can provide an entire weekend of exploring. If you are willing to skin in the night before, you can gain access to almost any terrain on the East Coast (that’s avalanche safe), and you are likely putting yourself in an incredible spot to start your day the next morning.

8. It’s cheaper!

While a touring-specific ski setup can come with some initial cost, thanks to the rising costs of ticket prices, you can actually save money in the long run in the backcountry. And especially considering how many years you’ll get out of that new gear, it’s well worth it.

Credit: Luke Looman

9. Find better—and deeper—snow.

I’ll admit, I am a bit of a snow snob. Fake snow just isn’t the same as natural, and any other snow snob will agree with that. When you catch a powder day at the resort, it may not last long before it turns into bump city. However, the backcountry may remain undisturbed all winter long. You just need to know where to find the goods.

10. The “Cool Factor.”

When you do the research, spend time looking at maps, talking to locals about the good stashes, it makes the ski experience so much better. Standing at the top of a remote mountain thinking “I bet not many people have skied this before, if ever” is something I think every skier should experience.


Ski Area Profile: Ragged Mountain, NH

New Hampshire’s reputation for skiing is growing—North Conway was recently named “Best Ski Town in North America” by USA Today. The ski areas in the Mount Washington Valley may steal the spotlight, but there are plenty of other great, lesser-known places to schuss in the Granite State. Lacking the size and the notoriety of the state’s big-name resorts, these smaller ski areas are unrivaled when it comes to stoke and community. One such gem is Danbury’s Ragged Mountain.

Whether it’s the terrain, welcoming atmosphere, proximity to southern New England, affordability, or epic views, there are a lot of reasons to love Ragged Mountain.

The Reggae Glades. | Credit: Tim Peck

Why Skiers Love Ragged: The Terrain

Ragged isn’t a “big” mountain, but it isn’t small either and it has plenty of terrain for every type of skier on its two peaks, Ragged Mountain and Spear Mountain. Ragged’s 57 trails are spread evenly across skill levels and its 1,250 feet of vertical is just enough that even seasoned skiers “feel the burn” toward the end of a run.

Beginner trails like Blueberry Patch, Lower Easy Winder, and Cardigan are mellow, wide, and always well-groomed, making them the perfect place for newer skiers and riders to build the confidence needed to tackle more challenging terrain. Intermediate runs like Exhibition and Flying Yankee are favorites of both seasoned and less-experienced skiers alike, thanks to their initial steep pitch and mellow runouts. Those looking for the steep stuff will love expert runs such as Sweepstakes and Showboat.

For a moderately sized mountain, Ragged is big on glades—it has 17. Skiers new to playing in the woods will love the widely spaced Reggae Glades and the lower-angle trees of Moose Alley. Options abound for skiers all about getting feisty in the forest—favorites include Rags to Riches and Pel’s Pass, both of which take advantage of the gladed terrain between the two peaks. There’s even a handful of double-black-diamond glades like Not Too Shabby, which delivers plenty of pitch and face-smackingly tight trees.

The Summit Six Express. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Welcoming Atmosphere

Ragged Mountain is easy to navigate—its trails are well marked and all of them lead to a shared base area that allows easy access to both peaks. This lets families or groups of disparate abilities break up to ski different trails and explore different terrain, then easily regroup between runs or at pre-arranged intervals. There is rarely a long wait for either of the mountain’s two primary lifts—the Summit Six and Spear Mountain Express—and both lifts provide a speedy ride to the top.

In non-COVID times, Ragged’s base lodge is a hub of activity. The lower level of the Elmwood Lodge (or Red Barn) is home to the Harvest Café and has an abundance of room for families to spread out. On the second level, visitors will find the Stone Hearth Bar and more open space for getting ready for, or kicking back after, a long day on the slopes. (If you do visit the bar, don’t forget to grab an aptly named Rags To Riches IPA.) Skiers looking for something more substantial than a hot chocolate from the café or a pint from the pub can find sit-down dining in the Birches Mountain Restaurant.

For those interested in chilling outside, there are a number of picnic tables and Adirondack chairs scattered across a stone patio in front of the Elmwood Lodge along with a fire pit for warming up frozen digits. With the current restrictions in the lodge due to COVID-19, Ragged has had a robust parking lot scene this year, with set-ups ranging from simple camp chairs and coolers to more involved arrangements with grills, portable heaters, and awnings.

Blueberry Patch. | Credit: Tim Peck

Proximity to Southern New England

Ragged is a pretty easy day trip from southern New England, especially when compared to ski destinations like North Conway. It is about an hour from New Hampshire’s two largest cities (Manchester and Nashua) and a little under two hours from Boston, which makes it a reasonable day trip for many. Good thing, too—there are limited lodging and food options near the mountain. Tilton (a little over 30 minutes away) is the closest town to offer a variety of hotel and dining options. Many love stopping at the Tilt’n Diner on the way home.

Although Ragged isn’t that far from southern New England, it does have a bit of a “can’t get there from here” vibe, as there are a bunch of ways to get to the mountain, but none of them are particularly direct. It is near both I-93 and I-89, but plan on driving between 20 and 30 minutes on backroads no matter which way you come.

Mount Cardigan from the Reggae Glades. | Credit: Tim Peck

It’s Affordable

Another perk of avoiding New Hampshire’s bigger-name mountains is avoiding their big-ticket prices. Ragged Mountain’s “Mission Affordable” season pass is one of the best deals going—it’s under $500 if you buy it early enough. If you’re interested in visiting Ragged this winter, find yourself a season ticket holder; They get four buddy tickets with their season pass, which are valid for a $49 lift ticket with no blackout dates.

Going deep on Flying Yankee. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Views

The views are big at this mid-sized mountain. From the summit of Ragged Mountain, visitors are treated to a fantastic perspective of the White Mountains, including the peaks of Franconia Ridge, the Bonds, and the often snow-capped Presidentials. From the top of Spear Mountain, skiers are treated to an excellent perspective of Mount Cardigan.

If you want the terrain and soul of one of New Hampshire’s big-name ski resorts, but are looking to get off the beaten path, put Ragged Mountain on your must-visit list this winter.


The Perfect Ski Width for the East Coast Backcountry

The search for the perfect-width backcountry ski can leave East Coasters feeling a lot like Goldilocks. Some skis are too wide, others are too narrow, and finding one with a waist size that’s “just right” seems impossible. If you’ve been dreaming of a ski silhouette that cruises uphill, shreds downhill, and can tackle the Ice Coast’s notoriously variable conditions, here are some thoughts.

Credit: Tim Peck

What is Ski Width?

For the unfamiliar, ski width is a measurement of the ski at its middle in millimeters—also called underfoot or the waist—and is generally the narrowest point on a ski. A ski’s width at its waist is almost always included in a ski’s nomenclature, from superskinny cross-country skis to portly powder planks.

Because skis are typically hourglass shaped, it’s also common to see a ski width measurement using three numbers, such as 138-106-124. In this format, the first number is a ski’s width at the front (at its widest point), the middle number is the width at the waist, and the last number is the width of the tail (at its widest point).

Credit: Tim Peck

Too Wide (115+)

We’ve all seen the super-sized planks the pros use in the TGR and Warren Miller movies and thought, I want those! And there’s no denying super-fat skis are fun on the deepest days—their large surface area provides an abundance of floatation and lets you surf on top of the snow. However, on average days, super-fat skis can elicit comments like these skis are too heavy, it’s too hard to hold an edge, and it’s too tricky to turn. 

So, unless you’re getting flown to the world’s best powder stashes or chasing storms from region to region, super-wide rides are pretty impractical as a primary driver for East Coasters. Skis with 115+ mm waists underfoot are best left to the powder professionals, those living in dreamy destinations, or as a secondary pair tucked away in your gear closet for the deepest of days in the Greens, Whites, and ’Daks.

Credit: Tim Peck

Too Narrow (85 and under) 

Skinny skis are all the rage in Europe—of course, so are skin suits and listening to techno at après. And they also call backcountry skiing “randonee” and groomers “pistes.” Here in the Northeast, it’s far more likely that a skier will choose a ski that is too wide, than one that is too narrow—likely because a certain portion of the population thinks that bigger equals better.

Less width generally equates to less weight, which makes narrow backcountry skis easier to tote around on long tours (like Mount Mooilaukee or on the auto road of Mount Whiteface) and are great for control in tight trees like those of the GBA when the snow isn’t that deep. They are also great for the rando racers in your crew. That said, getting caught with skinny skis when the snow is stacking up can suck the joy out of even the best pow day and leave skiers uttering remarks like it’s too deep and my skis are sinking, it’s too much effort, and going under the snow instead of on top is too slow.  

Credit: Tim Peck

Just Right (90 to 105)

Too-wide skis are no fun in anything but soft snow and skinny skis are outgunned when the going gets deep, which makes the sweet spot for the waist width of an East Coast backcountry ski somewhere in between the two. Skis in the 90 to 105 waist range (sometimes called a mid-fat ski) provide a nice blend of the attributes of both fat and narrow skis.

A ski that is “just-the-right” width will have enough surface area to keep you floating on those rare Northeast days when the snow is measured in feet, not inches. They also are easy enough to skin with that you won’t shy away from all-day tours or multiple laps and can shred through New England glades even when the snow is more frozen than fluff. You can even bring them to the resort for an uphill lap or two without attracting strange looks from the lift.

Finding a sweet spot within this “do-it all” range is very skier-specific. For those looking to move faster on the uphill or ski more groomers than couloirs, a ski with a width at the lower end of this range (90-95) is best. Skiers prioritizing the “down,” by contrast, are likely to prefer the range’s higher end (i.e., 105 underfoot).

Quiver 

Not to ski shame anyone—there is nothing wrong with fat or skinny skis—they’re all fun to ride. In fact, having a quiver of skis (of all sizes for all conditions) is an awesome luxury if you can afford it. After all, the correct number of skis to own is N+1—that is, the number of skis you own plus one. But if you can’t own a collection, a mid-fat ski is a great compromise for those looking for one ski to do it all.


Crotched Mountain: "Out-of-this-World" Skiing

New Hampshire has a storied ski history. It was the first state in the nation to cut dedicated downhill ski trails and to have overhead wire-rope ski tows, a gondola, and an aerial tramway. It’s also home to the first downhill ski race in the U.S., a route you can still ski today. Still, almost a century and a half after the founding of the nation’s oldest continuously operating ski club, New Hampshire remains passionate about its skiing.

Small ski resorts across the Granite State keep the ski stoke high winter after winter. These ski areas might not compete with their bigger brethren in acreage, vertical, or glitz, but they are unrivaled when it comes to passion, thanks to their accessibility, comparative affordability, and community atmospheres. One such ski hill is Bennington’s Crotched Mountain.

Credit: Tim Peck

Why Skiers Love Crotched Mountain

The reason skiers love Crotched Mountain is simple: the skiing. From trees to steeps to parks to cruisers, there’s terrain for everyone at the mountain—and thanks to the single, small base area, groups can split up, take the trail that most appeals to them, and reconvene to ride the lift back up together. The mountain’s out-of-the-way location ensures that the crowds are typically thin and long lift lines are abnormal.

Crotched also has an amazing community. Before the lifts even start spinning, it’s common to see groups of skiers uphilling together, a practice that continues throughout the day thanks to the mountain’s liberal uphill travel policy. There is also a strong contingent of telemark skiers, and Crotched has even hosted the U.S. Telemark National Championships. It’s not uncommon on nice days to see families and groups gathered together in the parking lot cooking on portable grills or sharing brown bag lunches.

Credit: Tim Peck

Finding the Best Terrain

The crown jewel of Crotched Mountain is “the Rocket,” a high-speed, detachable quad that carries skiers to the resort’s 2,066-foot summit. From the top of the Rocket, skiers can access all of the mountain’s 100 acres of trails, plus the overwhelming majority of its glades. New skiers need to know that there is no novice trail from the summit; The easiest descent is via Moon Walk, a blue square.

Crotched Mountain has four other lifts besides the Rocket—a quad, a triple, a double, and a surface lift—but this high-speed four-seater remains the favorite for its efficiency and accessibility. In 2018, Vermont skier Scott Howard made the most of the Rocket’s speed, ticking 143 runs and 130,900 vertical feet in a single day at the mountain while on his way to set the record for most vertical feet skied in a season.

Credit: Tim Peck

Something For Everyone

Skiers of all abilities will find a trail to test their limits at Crotched Mountain—28% of the mountain’s trails are rated as novice terrain, 40% intermediate, and 32% expert. In general, the steepest trails are close to the Rocket, where Pluto’s Plunge and Jupiter’s Storm offer plenty of pitch for steep-skiing aficionados. Another expert-level favorite is UFO, which often features natural or manmade bumps. Trails on the ski area’s outer edges—Galaxy and Super Nova—offer more mellow descents.

In addition to groomers, Crotched Mountain has 80 acres of glades. Seasoned tree skiers will love the Darkstar Glade’s steep pitch and tight trees while those just getting accustomed to skiing in the woods will love the lower angle and widely spaced trees of the Final Frontier Glade.

Crotched Mountain also has a variety of parks to play in. The typical park progression for Crotched Mountain riders is to go from the NCC-1701 park to the Zero-G park to the CM Terrain Park. The NCC-1701 is a favorite with newer park riders thanks to its relaxed slope angle, small jumps, and relatively low-consequence rails, while the biggest, rowdiest jumps and features are in the CM Terrain Park.

Credit: Tim Peck

Under-the-Radar Runs

Like most small ski areas, much of Crotched Mountain’s skiable terrain is visible from the lifts, but there are few hidden gems too. A powder-day favorite is Big Dipper, which is tricky to connect with other steep trails and generally involves skating or shuffling back to the Rocket—both of which keep the crowds at bay and freshies untracked. The mountain is also home to a fair number of unmarked glades, so keep your eyes peeled for tracks leading into the woods or loosen the lips of a local with a beer at the Onset Pub & Lounge. (We suggest ordering a Rocket Fuel, which is brewed just down the road, especially for Crotched Mountain, by Henniker Brewing.)

Midnight Madness

Crotched Mountain’s defining event is Midnight Madness, which takes place every Friday and Saturday night. The mountain’s lifts spin until 1:00 AM—later than any other mountain in New England—during Midnight Madness, and the festivities include live music, bonfires, and other events.

Credit: Tim Peck

Getting There

Directions to Crotched Mountain elicit the classic New England response, you can’t get there from here. Although Bennington—home to Crotched Mountain—is located in south-central New Hampshire and just 70-odd miles from Boston, getting there is a bit of an adventure for the uninitiated. Unlike many of the state’s big-name ski areas, Crotched Mountain isn’t close to any major highway and requires travel on single-lane rural roads through small, unfamiliar towns.

Upon arrival in Bennington, you’ll find typical ski town amenities in short supply. The town does have a small general store downtown and a handful of local eateries, but those looking to venture outside of the mountain’s cafeteria and pub will generally want to head toward places like Peterborough, Hillsborough, or Manchester, all of which are about a half-hour away. But if this is what you’re coming for, you’re missing the point—Crotched is for skiing.

If you haven’t visited Crotched Mountain before, put a trip to it on your winter to-do list, as this small mountain delivers big smiles.


How Can RECCO Save Your Life?

RECCO is a type of avalanche rescue technology, originally from Sweden, used by professional rescuers to locate buried avalanche victims. The idea behind RECCO was born after an avalanche accident in Sweden in 1973. Magnus Granhed, its future founder, was one of the rescuers involved in the accident response. He felt limited with the current technology and techniques at their disposal when they were unable to rescue the buried skiers. The avalanche rescue community needed something that could more effectively locate avalanche victims and, since nothing existed, Granhed took the innovation into his own hands with RECCO.

Over the next four and a half decades, there came several iterations of the RECCO detectors that are used today. From the first prototype phase in the late 1970s, to the first commercially available and clothing integrated reflectors in the ‘80s, to handheld tech and helicopter-mounted search capabilities in the 21st Century, RECCO technology has evolved into a valuable asset in search and rescue operations. 

How does it work?

RECCO detectors send out directional radar signals, which are then reflected back to the detector after hitting a special RECCO reflector. The return of the reflected signal cues the operator to close in on where the reflected signal is coming from. These reflectors are made to only be picked up by the detecting instruments, allowing them to be distinguished from other buried debris or objects that aren’t avalanche victims. 

It is important not to confuse a RECCO detector with an avalanche transceiver, or any other frequency device on the market. While the applications and technology are similar, transceivers and RECCO detectors are still very different tools, and should be treated as such. An avalanche transceiver will not locate a RECCO reflector. However, the more modern handheld RECCO detectors will pick up 457 kHz signals (the universal avalanche transceiver frequency) in addition to the normal operative frequencies, which adds another layer of search capabilities for the rescuer.

There are two varieties of RECCO detectors that you may see in use: a handheld device that is operated by a rescuer on the ground, and a larger, helicopter-carried detector for larger-scale search areas. These both work the same way, just on different scales.

Who uses RECCO?

RECCO systems were developed to be used by professional rescuers, primarily search and rescue and ski patrol teams. In fact, it’s impossible to get your hands on these systems unless you are a professional. In a way, anyone wearing a RECCO reflector is a user of the technology, however since the reflectors are passive it is not quite a fair comparison. 

Where we can find it?

We are most likely to encounter RECCO technology in clothing and other gear with sewn in RECCO reflectors. Seeing reflectors in outerwear is becoming more commonplace, although they been found in clothing and ski boots since the 1980s. EMS’s Nor’Easter Ski Jackets (men’s/women’s) and Squall Shell Pants (men’s/women’s) are the latest to include a built-in RECCO reflector. 

There are a couple of search and rescue organizations around New England that have handheld detectors, including Stowe Mountain Rescue, White Mountain National Forest, as well as the Lake Placid Forest Rangers. Mont Tremblant in Quebec also has RECCO search capabilities, but any other detectors in the US are found to the west of the Mississippi. For a full list and map of organizations with RECCO detectors around the world, go here.

Courtesy: RECCO

What can’t it do?

Being a two-part system, the RECCO detectors and reflectors are designed to work together, so without a RECCO reflector, you’ll be nearly impossible to find with the technology. While you will be harder to find, rescuers have noted instances where they have been able to pick up avalanche transceivers, cell phones, and other electronics, albeit with a much weaker signal. 

Whether or not a victim has RECCO reflectors, a detector still has a limits to the range that it can pick up a returning signal. The handheld detectors can pick up reflectors up to 120 meters away above ground, and can be limited to 10 meters through packed snow (Mount Washington averages 7 meters in a whole year), so that is less of a limitation around New England. Helicopter systems have a larger search area; RECCO touts the ability to search one square kilometer in six minutes.

And again, RECCO isn’t a viable solution for most backcountry skiers. It’s much more feasible for everyone in a backcountry group to carry a traditional avalanche transceiver than is it a handheld RECCO receiver. But in-bounds, where carrying an expensive transceiver isn’t typical, cheap RECCO reflectors embedded into jackets, pants, ski boots, helmets and more, can make skiers easy to find in the event of an avalanche.

Courtesy: RECCO

Bottom line.

So what do we know about RECCO? When it’s available, it can be a tremendous asset for rescuers to locate buried avalanche victims, although it cannot be counted on to save lives where detectors are sparse, and is certainly not a replacement for existing best practices in avalanche safety. RECCO is a supplement to current rescue techniques including transceiver searches, probe lines, and trained dog teams, and has been shown to improve victim location times. 

The avalanche community is still experiencing a lot of growth in the rescue tools available to professionals, and as RECCO technology improves with everything else hopefully we may see a shift from what is considered to be a body recovery tool to even more of a live rescue asset. 

It is worth researching where RECCO systems are in use, and maybe more importantly where they are unavailable, before traveling into a certain area. Additionally, with the infusion of clothing and gear with integrated RECCO reflectors into the larger outdoor market we have unprecedented access to cheap and simple tools that may increase our chances of being found if buried under snow.


Plan B: 6 Ways to Keep Your Adventures Local

Not all adventures go as planned. Sometimes the snow and avalanche danger on your hut trip means you spend more time stoking the wood stove and less skiing. Sometimes wildfires close the area you scored backpacking permits to six months ago. Sometimes en route to a big Pacific Northwest volcano climb, your flight is delayed and you miss out. And sometimes a global pandemic freezes travel and forces you to get reacquainted with your living room and local adventure spots. It wouldn’t be an adventure otherwise.

Staying close to home has never been more important right now—Both for your own personal health and that of your loves ones, but also for our Northeast community at large, especially those in small adventure hubs. But just because you can’t pack the car and bust up to North Conway for a long weekend on Mount Washington, that doesn’t mean you can’t still adventure and spend time outside. Use these six tips to look to your back yard for new inspiration and to keep the legs moving and lungs stretched when the world feels shut down.

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1. Explore your neighborhood park.

The front lines of the outdoors, local neighborhood parks are an oasis within reach, and the perfect place to go for a quick hit of fresh air, leg stretching, and a reset from screens, puzzles, and baking bread. Normally, when there are other places to go for a big hike or climb, it would be easy to stick to running the paved paths or hanging around the jungle gym with the kids (skip the touchy-feely swing sets, monkey bars, and slides for a little while). Now with ample time, slow down, wander off the beaten path, explore side trails, and check out the more obscure corners of your local green spaces.

2. Step up your fitness

With gyms closed (and restaurants, if we’re being honest with ourselves) and big objectives on hold, there’s never been a better time to turn your local adventure zone into your gym and make some fitness gains before things open back up and your life list is back in action. The trail you love to hike? Run it. That new perspective can turn old trails new again, and exploring it with some tunes in your ears and a focus on your own personal health makes running or biking a little less lonely than simply walking solo.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Earn your turns at your local ski resort

The lifts might not be spinning, but that doesn’t mean your ski season needs to be completely done. With touring gear, many resorts (check their websites or call to confirm) still allow uphill access: Skinning up the trails on your own and skiing back down. Not only is it a phenomenal workout and a fun way to keep your season alive, but it may be the best way to be introduced to a new winter activity. Even when the resorts do open back up, having the gear and experience necessary to get into the backcountry on skis is a great way to access the winter woods and a fun way to seek out powder turns. And one of the best ways to pick up the skills necessary is on a graded resort slope.

Keep in mind: One of the big benefits of uphilling at a resort during a typical ski season is that when mountains are open, ski patrollers are putting in the time to making sure the terrain is safe, obstacles are marked, avalanche danger is mitigated, and they’re there to lend a hand if you get into trouble. With the resorts closed, that is no longer the case. Plan for a day at the resort like a day in the backcountry, where you’re alone, need to be self-sufficient, and expect that help is a long ways away. Also stick to mellow terrain and know the basics of avalanche safety and rescue.

4. Start redlining your local trails

Even in our backyard wilderness, too often we focus on the flashy hikes and trails: The big summits, pristine lakes, and most popular trails. After all, they’re popular for a reason. But without the option to travel very far in search of new routes, it might be time to give those overlooked trails another glance. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy them. “Redlining,” or hiking every length of trail in a given area, definitely takes this idea to the extreme. But use this opportunity to get intimately familiar with your local trails, hiking some that you had never thought of exploring. Take a different route to that favorite spot. Go the long, “around the back” way. Camp on another, smaller lake and hike the summits that maybe have the best views. If you need a challenge and a “checklist” to work on, pin up a map of your local forest and make an effort to highlight every trail that you’ve hiked, and head to some of the obscure spots that you haven’t explored yet. If you think you knew the area before, just wait until you’ve seen corners of it that few ever do.

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5. Stay hyper local

Just because you can’t get away from the house doesn’t mean you need to forgo the pleasantries of camping. If you have a back yard, set up a tent and build a small fire pit. The kids will love it, you’ll get to enjoy a little more fresh air than you might cloistered in your house, and there’s just something about the smell of a campfire, cool air on your face while you’re tucked into a sleeping bag, and waking up with the morning light that recharges you, regardless of whether you’re 50 miles into the backcountry or 20 feet from your back door.

6. Stay in and plan your next adventure

As bad as things may look, we know one thing: This won’t last forever. Eventually, travel bans will be lifted, restaurants will re-open, flights will hit the air again, and you’ll be able to head out on that big cross-country road trip or that life list backpacking mission a few states over. Life will get back to normal. And now is the time to start planning for that. Keep in the adventure mindset by using this time shut indoors to study guidebooks and maps, sift through Caltopo, draw up your life list, and plan the trips to come. The adventure itself is only half the fun. Dive into the planning now and spend time dreaming up the missions you’ll head out on as soon as the time comes.

Whatever you choose to do to spend your time this spring, be safe, follow the CDC’s guidelines for preventing COVID-19, and don’t let your stoke die.


15 Types of Skiers You'll Meet on the Mountain

One of the great things about skiing is the many different types of people who enjoy the sport. Whether you’re chasing first tracks or closing the bar, you’ve likely stumbled into one of these skiers before. Remember: if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?

Backcountry Skiing

1. Powder Hounds

Perpetually on the search for first tracks and deep snow, Powder Hounds live to spend winter in the white room—the feeling of getting totally encompassed in snow while skiing powder. Easily identifiable by their super-wide skis, action cams, and snow-encrusted smiles, you’ll often encounter Powder Hounds speaking in hushed tones about their secret stashes.

2. Park Rats 

You’re just as likely to see a Park Rat sliding on rails, boxes, or flying in the air as you are to witness them sliding on the snow. Fueled by Red Bull and Monster energy drinks, on the rare occasion when Park Rats aren’t blasting music through their headphones, they’re communicating with an ever-evolving language that only loosely resembles English.

3. Après Enthusiasts

As the name implies, the Après Enthusiast is more interested in what happens after skiing rather than during skiing, and is more likely to be seen dancing on the bar than skiing on the slopes—because of this, you’ll rarely encounter them before noon. Gear is secondary for Après Enthusiasts, with the exception of their shot ski (which was handcrafted).

4. Snow Bunnies

Snow Bunnies are more concerned with looking good than skiing well. Lift tickets are just an accessory for a Snow Bunny; Despite the triple-digit expense of a day pass, you won’t see them on the slopes—although they might ride the lift for lunch at the restaurant on the summit.

EMS-Winter-ski-Mountain-0779

5. Old Schoolers

Sporting straight skis, sunglasses, and no helmet or hat, you’ll find Old Schoolers teaching a masters class on why gear doesn’t translate to skill or enjoyment. Styling runs on skis older than you while wearing a jacket that wasn’t all that warm or waterproof when it was bought 20 years ago, much less now, old-school skiers are as stoked today as they were when they first skied that run decades earlier.

6. Wannabe Racers

Aero helmets, skin-tight suits, and race skis, oh my. You’ll encounter Wannabe Racers all over the mountain, chattering about everything from how fast they were/are in high school/college/NASTAR or the latest tune they just gave their skis. From ski tucking down cruisers to slaloming through make-believe gates, these skiers are frequently found immersed in competition against an imaginary Bode Miller, Lyndsey Vonn, Ted Ligety, or Mikaela Shiffrin. Look for them in deep discussion about camber at the mountain’s shop.

7. Gapers 

Gapers go by a host of names, such as “Jerries” or “Joeys.” An interesting species of skier, gapers are totally clueless to the rules, but are totally dialed in their own minds. Known for their  namesake gap—the space between a skier’s helmet and their goggles—Jerries are also often spotted skiing in jeans, carrying their skis strangely, and yard sailing over the mountain.

8. First Timers

Awkwardly walking across the lodge, causing pile-ups getting onto (and off of) the lift, and performing top-to-bottom snow plows are first-time skiers. Recognized by their rental equipment, First Timers are hopefully spotted hanging around the ski school or accompanied by an instructor, but have an unfortunate tendency to stray into expert terrain unsupervised.

Courtesy of Camden Snow Bowl
Courtesy of Camden Snow Bowl

9. Gear Obsessed

Sure skiing is fun, but it’s even more fun if the rocker profile of your ski is perfectly matched to conditions, your boots have been custom molded, and your layers are working in unison to keep you perfectly insulated. Gear-Obsessed skiers are interested more in ski equipment than they are the sport itself.

10. Lodge Loungers

Gunning for likes on Instagram, you’ll find Lodge Loungers at tables in the lodge, eyes glued to a screen, posting about their latest epic descent. Although they may congregate indoors with park rats, you can pick these teens out by the heaping plates of chicken fingers and fries they’re consuming in the moments they can glance away from their screen.

11. Disgruntled Dads

These Dads didn’t sign their first-timer kids up for lessons and now they are paying the price. Easily found in three places: in the rental shop struggling to get boots on their kids, on the bunny hill with a kid on the ground having a temper tantrum, and in the lodge helping “the fam” warm up with some hot chocolate. Although they may lighten up come Après Hour, do yourself a favor and give Disgruntled Dads a wide berth on the slopes.

12. The Beverage Smugglers

Undeterred by signs prohibiting “off-premises” beverages, these hardly souls recognize that “après” only means “after” in France. The best Beverage Smugglers can be found carrying Northeast classics like Tree House and Alchemist. Probably a millennial, but worth befriending—hopefully they’ll share a can (or two) with you in the lodge.

After-ski drinks in the Paul Bunyan Lounge. | Courtesy: Loon Mountain
After-ski drinks in the Paul Bunyan Lounge. | Courtesy: Loon Mountain

13. College Bros

Frequenting events like Reggae Fest, retro day, and the pond skim, College Bros appear at Northeast resorts in March during “Spring Break.” They travel in oversized packs with nicknames like “Crew 22.” They’re definitely staying at somebody’s parents’ slopeside condo and may have some aspiring Beverage Smugglers in the group.

14. Kid Crushers

These mini shredders’ parents have had them on skis and in lessons since before they could even walk—and it shows. Kid Crushers are found everywhere from the park to the race course to the trees and, despite not being tall enough to ride a roller coaster, they’ve turned the entire mountain into an amusement park. May become Wannabe Racers, or Park Rats as they get older.

16. Ski Patrollers

Also known as “Red Jackets.” Occasionally spotted skiing, but typically only to migrate between the “Patrol Shack” near the top of the mountain and the “Patrol Room” at the bottom. Prefer hard, icy terrain and rescuing First Timers. Will sometimes be observed “in discussion” with Park Rats and Wannabe Racers.

Warren Miller said, “Don’t take life too seriously, because you can’t come out of it alive.” Whether you’re a Jerry, a Powder Hound, or an Old Schooler have a great ski season.


Everything You Need to Know About Uphill Skiing

Uphilling at the resort is one of the fastest-growing winter sports—and early winter, before there’s snow in the backcountry, is the perfect time to try it. Whether you’re looking to learn the skills required for backcountry travel in a lower-consequence setting or just get some early-season elevation in your legs, uphilling should have a place in your quiver this winter.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Why Uphill?

Like so many alpine activities, uphilling has long been popular in Europe, but is rapidly increasing in popularity in the US. Today, more than half of North American resorts allow uphill skiing. In New England, the reasons to embrace the uphill are numerous.

Reliable Conditions: Let’s face it, the truth is that Northeast snow is unreliable. Some seasons it comes late, some seasons it never comes, and some seasons are interrupted by a mid-winter thaw. Snowmaking and grooming keep the resort a reliable option most winters.

Early Season: It’s the rare (and coveted) year that the backcountry season gets started with a huge November dump. A great thing about uphilling at the resort is that once it’s cold, there’s usually man-made snow on the ground, meaning you can get skinning immediately (subject, of course, to resort-specific restrictions).

Safe Snow: Many of the Northeast’s most coveted backcountry runs, like those in Tucks, are in avalanche terrain. Thus, skiers and riders require specialized gear and knowledge. They also need time for conditions to line up. Conversely, avalanches are not a concern within eastern ski area boundaries, making for one less thing to worry about.

Off Hours: Many of us have ski bum dreams but nine to five realities. Many resorts allow uphill skiing before and after the lifts spin—meaning you can earn pre- or post-work turns during the week and satiate your ski stoke, all with the added bonus of avoiding the lift-serviced crowds.

Fantastic Fitness: Running on the treadmill and sitting on the exercise bike might get you fit, but they’re boring and indoors. Uphilling is a great low-impact workout and allows you to train outside so that you’re in shape for when the conditions are right to venture into the backcountry. Plus, the ski downhill is way more fun than anything you’ll find at the local gym.

Enjoy an Old Favorite: If you live near a small mountain and have grown tired of lapping the same three or four runs, uphill skiing provides a new way to enjoy well-covered terrain. Additionally, that cruiser might feel a bit more challenging on post-ascent legs.

Great for First Timers: Interested in shredding one of Tuckerman Ravine’s iconic runs, surfing the pow at one of the GBA’s glades, or ticking a descent of a four-thousand footer off your bucket list, but uncertain where to begin? Uphilling at the resort is a great way to mimic the backcountry experience while minimizing the risks. Try a couple of uphill days to dial your kit, hone your technique, and get some experience in a lower-consequence setting.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Best Places to Uphill in New England

More and more ski resorts in New England are embracing uphill skiing; However, uphill policies are unique to each destination. In addition to whether or not a resort allows uphill skiers, some other things you’ll want to know are if the ski area charges for uphilling and if they have a prescribed ascent route. Before heading to the hill, check out the United States Ski Mountaineering Association’s list of uphill policies for US resorts, or stick to these uphill-friendly spots…

Magic Mountain: The gold standard for uphill skiers in the Northeast, Magic welcomes uphillers at all times, with the exception of powder days (when the mountain receives 6+ inches of snow) when they ask that uphillers wait for the lifts to spin before starting to skin. Magic’s “Hike One, Ride One” policy gives uphillers a token for a free one-ride lift ticket if they skin all the way to the top.

Black Mountain: Black Mountain is the epicenter for New Hampshire’s uphill ski scene. Uphillers are permitted from sunrise to 4 pm. It’s also home to a robust rental fleet of alpine touring gear and hosts Friday Night Lights, a ten-week uphill series for skiers of all abilities.

Mount Abram: Want to know what it’s like to have a ski resort all to yourself? Find out just twenty minutes away from gargantuan Sunday River at Mount Abram. This resort allows uphill access to its trails during both operational and non-operational hours—including Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday when the lifts don’t spin at all.

Wachusett Mountain: Skiers in central Massachusetts hoping to sneak in a run before work will want to check out Wachusett, which allows uphill skiing (at no charge) before the lift runs. Not an early riser? Check out Berkshire East, where the terrain is open to uphillers from dusk to dawn provided they’re season ticket holders or purchase a ticket—they sell both day and season uphill passes.

Mohawk Mountain: Proving that you don’t need to be in the mountains of northern New England to earn your turns is Connecticut’s Mohawk Mountain. The mountain is open to all skiers, including those who want to earn their 650-foot descent, during regular operating hours.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Uphill Ski Gear

In general, your uphill ski kit will closely resemble a backcountry ski kit without the avvy gear. To start, you’ll need an alpine touring, telemark, or splitboard set up with skins (although some mountains permit snowshoes) along with appropriate boots, poles, and layers. Although you’re at the resort, strive for self-sufficiency by packing a small first-aid and repair kit. You’ll also likely want a helmet, goggles, food and water, and a small pack. One of the advantages of skinning at the resort is that the car or base lodge is often close by, letting you pack light and make adjustments to your gear throughout the day. Another benefit of being near the lodge is the ability to sneak in and warm up between laps.

Uphill skiing is still in its early stages and many resorts are tinkering with their policies, so if you enjoy the uphill make sure to adhere to the skier responsibility code and be on your best behavior. Better yet, if a resort offers free uphill access, stop in and grab a beer or snack and show your support for them. Ski ya on the trails!


Abandoned But Not Forgotten: Skiing Mount Watatic

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Watatic’s Backstory

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

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

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Accessing the Goods

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

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

The Upper Mountain

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

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Lower Mountain

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

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Base Area

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

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