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.


Video: 5 Tips for Staying Safe in Avalanche Terrain with MWAC

Looking for something to watch tonight? How about refreshing your snow safety.


How to Choose The Right Jacket for Winter Adventures

Whether it’s to keep us dry, help us stay warm, fend off the wind, or shed snow, we ask a lot of our jackets—this is why so many hikers, climbers, and skiers are obsessed with them. On any given trip, our hiking packs likely contain three to four coats, which allows us to adjust for the ever-changing weather found in the mountains. There’s a difference between pulling a coat from your pack and grabbing the “right” coat from your pack, especially when Mother Nature rears her ugly head. Here’s how to dial your outer layer setup this winter.

Insulation

Down puffies like EMS’s Feather Pack and synthetic puffies such as the EMS Primapack offer exceptional warmth for their (very light) weight, making them incredibly versatile jackets to have in your quiver. The EMS Feather Pack and Primapack are favorites for cold-weather activities like winter hiking, backcountry skiing and snowboarding, ice climbing, and mountaineering. Since these jackets take up minimal space in your pack and provide exceptional warmth, they’re common additions to three-season hiking packs for chilly summits or to use in the event of an emergency. Walk any city street and you’ll notice that puffies like the Feather Pack and Primapack are extremely popular for everyday wear as well.

A word of caution: the thin nylon face fabric used on many lightweight puffies—including the Feather Pack and Primapack—can rip when exposed to sharp stuff like ice tools, ski edges, and tough branches. Consequently, they’re best worn under a hardshell or softshell during tear-prone activities such as tree skiing or when used near the sharp picks and points of ice tools and crampons.

Down Insulation: The Feather Pack

The Feather Pack’s down insulation provides unrivaled warmth-to-weight—down is, pound for pound, the world’s best insulator. The Feather Pack, and jackets like it, are popular with a broad spectrum of users who covet their superior warmth, minimal weight, and small size when packed. However, down is susceptible to moisture (like snow and rain), and while some jackets, like the Feather Pack, are made with hydrophobic down to improve water resistance, there are better options for wet-weather activities.

Best Use: Insulating jacket on cold, dry days when aerobic output is low and weight and space are at a premium.  

Synthetic Insulation: The Prima Pack

Synthetic puffies like the EMS Primapack offer many of the same advantages as those of down puffies, namely, they’re light, packable, and warm. Synthetic insulation generally outperforms down in wet weather—it provides insulation even when wet and dries more quickly than its down counterparts. As a result, synthetic-insulation jackets, such as the EMS Primapack, are popular with those living in wet climates or participating in activities where moisture is inevitable. The downside of synthetic insulation is that it does not pack up quite as small as comparable down jackets.

Best Use: Daily driver on cold days and for outings where warmth is critical and the conditions are likely to be wet. 

Active Insulation: The Vortex

Active insulation, like that used in the EMS Vortex, is a must-have for on-the-move athletes in cold-weather—think heading uphill while backcountry skiing, cross-country skiing, and fast-paced hikes. Active insulation is designed to breathe during high-exertion activities and move moisture from the inside to the outside, making it an awesome part of any layering system. Active insulation pieces like the Vortex work great on their own, but what allows the insulation to breathe also allows the wind to penetrate through it. Consequently, they’re best paired with an outer layer, such as under a hardshell or softshell, in windy conditions.

Best Use: Higher-output aerobic activity in cold weather like hiking, climbing, or backcountry skiing. 

Hardshell: The NimbusFlex

Another key piece of the outerwear puzzle is a hardshell, such as the EMS NimbusFlex Rain Jacket. An outer layer like this has minimal insulating value itself but plays a critical role in your insulating system by keeping the elements (such as rain and snow) off the layers you’re wearing underneath. An added benefit of hardshells is that they do a great job blocking the wind.

Best Use: As an outer layer when it’s wet (resort skiing, ice climbing, hiking during a storm) or very windy (above-treeline travel).

The EMS Clipper

Softshell: The Clipper

Bridging the gap between true insulating layers (like the Feather Pack,  Primapack, and Vortex) and traditional hardshells, a softshell like the EMS Clipper is a great option for active pursuits. Typically worn over a base layer, the Clipper offers wind and water resistance in addition to providing some insulation. Breathable, stretchy, and rugged, you’ll see many folks wearing softshells while climbing, skiing, and hiking.

Best Use: Daily driver for aerobic activities on spring, fall, and mild winter days. 

Three-in-One: The Nor’easter

Where a softshell molds the best features of a hardshell and insulation together, a three-in-one jacket like the EMS Nor’easter zips them together. These jackets feature a burly hardshell with an insulating layer zipped inside, giving you the option to wear just the hardshell over a baselayer on a warm-but-wet day, just the insulation (in the case of the Nor’easter, it’s a fleece) when you need warmth and breathability but no weather protection, or zip them together to make a burly do-it-all coat.

Best Use: Skiing (especially at a resort), cold and/or poor weather aerobic activities in deep winter. 

Putting It All Together

The best jacket choice is often activity-dependent, and finding the right combination of layers for you involves many personal preferences. One common practice in the Northeast for hiking, backcountry skiing, and climbing is a base layer and softshell, with users donning a puffy (rest breaks, exposed ridgelines, and emergencies) and a hardshell (precip and high winds) at appropriate junctions. On colder days, consider swapping the softshell with an active insulator like the Vortex.


The Gear You Need for Uphilling at Magic Mountain

Uphill skiing continues to grow in popularity among seasoned and novice human-powered skiers alike thanks to reliable conditions and low objective hazards. Magic Mountain in Londonderry, Vermont has been at the forefront of the uphill movement with its “Hike One Ride One” program that famously rewards uphill skiers with a token for a free lift ride when they successfully reach the 2,850-foot summit of the mountain—a 1,700-foot climb.

Although the free-ride program is temporarily suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions (read the full details here), Magic Mountain’s awesome terrain, great snow, and soulful ski culture make it a must-visit. Make your visit even more enchanting by showing up with the right gear for uphilling.

Credit: Tim Peck

EMS Merino Wool Baselayer

Uphillers access the goods via a designated skinning route on Magic’s left side, either an uphill trail in the woods or, if snow cover is low in the woods, up the resort’s leftmost trail (Lower Magic Carpet to Up Your Sleeve to White Out). Skinning up even low-angle terrain like that found on Magic Carpet generates a lot of heat and makes the heavy baselayers you use for riding the lifts too warm for this aerobic activity. EMS’s Merino Wool baselayers (men’s top and bottom; women’s top and bottom) wick sweat and keep you comfortable on the uphill and offer enough insulation for the descent. Wool naturally fights odors too, which is great if you’re heading into the Black Line Tavern at the end of the day.

EMS Field Glove

A leather work glove, like the Outdoor Research Askel or EMS Field Glove, offers enough dexterity for ripping skins and buckling boots behind the Red Chair Double’s top shack at Magic’s summit while providing enough insulation to keep you warm while dropping down Black Line.

Credit: Tim Peck

Osprey Kamber/Kresta

With your car and the base lodge always a short ski away and no need for a full backcountry ski kit, a small 20-24 liter pack is perfect for uphilling at Magic. The Osprey Kamber 22 and Kresta 20 have all the ski-specific features of bigger bags—like a way to divide wet and dry gear and glove-friendly zippers and buckles—in an uphill friendly size.

Smith Camber/Compass

From the tree skiing on Warlock, to tired legs from the skin to the summit, to that newbie tackling Sorcerer for the first time, danger is always lurking on the slopes—even at a place as bewitching as Magic. Tuck a helmet like the Smith Camber or Compass into your pack and don it for your descent.

Credit: Tim Peck

Giro Block

Goggles go in and out of the pack a lot while uphill skiing, making a good pair of goggles that you won’t lose sleep over if you happen to scratch them, like the Giro Block, an important piece of your kit. They’re even more essential for those super-fit skiers who seem almost as fast as Magic’s old Black Lift and are bagging multiple laps a day.

The North Face Thermoball Eco

Whether you’re waiting for your ski buddies in the parking lot, transitioning from up to down next to the Black Line Quad, or enjoying a post-session hangout next to the firepit, a puffy like The Northface Thermoball Eco (men’s/women’s) is essential to falling under Magic’s spell.

Credit: Tim Peck

Turtle Fur Chelonia 150 Double Layer Neck Warmer

Neck warmers, gaiters, and tubes have long been a staple of resort, backcountry, and uphill skiers alike and are even more relevant in the age of COVID-19. From sealing in warmth while dropping into the Gonnif Glade to serving as a face covering at places where people congregate, like the top of the Red Chair Double. Make sure to have something like the Turtle Fur Chelonia 150 Double Layer Neck Warmer or Stria Totally Tubular Headwear close at hand.

HydroFlash Wide Mouth 20 oz. Bottle

Sure, you can leave food and a drink in your car or grab something quick at the Base Cafeteria, but it’s good to carry something to eat and drink with you on the mountain—after all, you’re “earning your turns.” Energy bars and PB&Js are great for sustenance, but having something warm to drink—like hot cocoa in an insulated Hydro Flask bottle—can lift your spirits on bitter Vermont days and reenergize tired legs.

Credit: Tim Peck

Osprey Snowkit Duffel

Nestled in southern Vermont, Magic is a popular day trip for skiers and riders from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. The Osprey Snowkit Duffel makes traveling to and from the mountain easy. It keeps your kit together for transitioning quickly from car to slopes in the morning and has a dedicated, ventilated compartment for stashing your sweaty boots at the end of the day.

Teva Ember Mock

After a long day ticking vertical, your feet are probably dying to slip into something more comfortable. Teva Ember Mocks (men’s/women’s) are stylish enough for inside if you scored a coveted reservation at the Black Line Tavern and warm enough if you prefer the parking lot après.

Make the most of your day at Magic Mountain and leave your ski partner spellbound by showing up with the right gear for a day of uphilling.


Go Big at Boston’s Local Ski Area: Blue Hills

Straddling the Milton-Canton town line, the Blue Hills Ski Area in Greater Boston’s Blue Hills Reservation is one of many local ski hills that are the lifeblood of the ski industry in the Northeast. Sure it’s small—just a handful of trails, one chairlift, a few magic carpets, and a vertical drop of just 309 feet—but between its storied history, geographic proximity to Boston, and skier-friendly hours, this family-focused area has served as a developing ground for skiers and riders across the region.

Credit: Tim Peck

A Ski Hill in Boston’s Backyard

Like so many ski trails in the Northeast, the first runs on Great Blue Hill were cut by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Charlie Proctor—winner of the first US downhill race in 1927 on Mount Moosilauke’s Carriage Road, member of the 1928 Olympic Ski Team, and the first (with John Carleton) to ski the Tuckerman Ravine Headwall in 1931—was among the designers. Alpine in nature, the narrow “Number 1” trail was later widened to become Big Blue, the backbone of the lift-serviced resort developed in 1949 and opened in February 1950 by the Metropolitan District Commission.

Big Blue remains Blue Hills’ preeminent ski trail to this day. It’s the most prominent, too—the large, wide slope is visible for miles around, especially at night when lights illuminate the snow-covered steep for night skiing. But it’s not the only reason to visit Blue Hills. The area has a stellar learning area where generations of skiers have learned to ski, as well as several other trails like Patriots Path, Chute, and Sonya that are great for novices and intermediates alike.

These days, Blue Hills is best known as a family-friendly resort. With learn-to-ski programs for all ages and a deep rental fleet, there are lots of opportunities for first-timers at Blue Hills. The beginner area, with several magic carpets and trails, is located just steps from the area’s rental building, so getting on the slopes for a lesson couldn’t be easier. For parents putting children in lessons, there are ample vantage points both on and off the slopes to observe and take pictures. And when they—like so many other skiers and riders have over the generations—graduate from the beginner area to making runs down Big Blue, it’s easy to watch them carve turns from the front of the lodge.

Credit: Tim Peck

When to Visit

For the most reliable conditions, visit Blue Hills on weekdays before school gets out or just after opening on a weekend morning. Arrive then and you’ll likely find a handful of retirees plus a patroller and/or ski instructor, all with huge grins on their faces from arcing large-radius turns down a freshly groomed Big Blue. For those working a more traditional schedule, the chair spins until 9 pm on weeknights and 8 pm on weekends and holidays. Clear goggles are a huge plus for night skiers.

Larger storms help bolster the snowmaking efforts at Blue Hills. If conditions allow, Sonya is a pleasant run with excellent views of the Boston skyline. Don’t miss Beer’s Bluff either, a  steeper-than-you’d-expect run under the lift that’s named for the ski area’s former operators.

Many high schools and area ski teams call Blue Hills home and Big Blue has been the home of many ski races over the years. Skiers or riders looking to ski chair-to-chair should check the race schedule before visiting.

Credit: Tim Peck

Getting There

Nestled in the Blue Hills Reservation, Blue Hills is located near the junction of Interstates 93 and 95. Just minutes from Boston, the ski area is convenient for those living south and west of the city. Given its location and large surrounding population, it’s no surprise that so many people have learned to ski or ride there.

Post-skiing, the popular après hangout is the nearby Hillside Pub. The food is good, the beer is cold, and you’ll likely find a few ski patrollers and lifties mixed in amongst the crowd. If you’re catching the last chair on a weeknight, call ahead with your order and it’ll be ready when you get there.

If you’re interested in learning to ski or ride or just looking to cold-down with a few post-work groomers, put a visit to Blue Hills on your winter to-do list.

Credit: Tim Peck

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.


Video: The Chairlift

It’s our gateway to bliss.


Gear Nerd: How Does MIPS Save Your Noggin?

You’re cruising along sweet deep powder carving down the slope with the wind whipping on by and a giant grin on your face. And then suddenly…the slope isn’t where it should be and you’re about to experience what it’s like to be a snowball. Lovely.

Fortunately for you, you’re smart and you’re wearing a helmet. Because you’re wicked smart you picked a helmet with MIPS. Maybe this won’t hurt so bad?

As you’re lying in a snowbank catching your breath and checking to make sure everything still feels intact, you might be wondering just exactly how your helmet and the MIPS technology works.

Courtesy: MIPS

What is MIPS?

Identifying a MIPS helmet (whether it’s a ski helmet, a bike helmet, or something else) is pretty easy. From the outside, it looks pretty standard, but flipping it over puts the business end in full view.

All helmets have at least 2 layers: the hard outer shell and a thick inner foam layer. If something falls straight onto the top of your head, or you make a perfectly head-on (pun intended) impact with a tree, these two layers crush and absorb a lot that impact before it can get to your skull and brain.

But that’s not how most accidents work. More likely, you fall off your bike and your helmet hits the pavement at an angle, or you side swipe a branch after losing control on your skis. It’s those indirect impacts where the MIPS layer really comes in.

Taking a look at the inside of your helmet and you’ll find a thin piece of yellow plastic inside the foam layer. The pads sit on this one so it’s what comes in contact with your head. But it also moves in relation to the rest of the helmet thanks to some elastic. The result is a helmet that can “slip” back and forth, or side to side, when it’s on your head.

But how does that help you in a crash?

With a non-MIPS helmet, your brain and skull would have played a wild game of ping pong: As the helmet hit the ground, it would force your entire head to rotate violently, sloshing your brain inside your skull. But the MIPS layer let the helmet slip without your head, redirecting the energy by allowing the low friction layer to move 10 to 15 millimeters. When your helmet hits the snow, the outer two layers slide along the MIPS layer and your head, absorbing more impact and redirecting it away from your brain.

So where can I find it?

MIPS helmets are becoming more and more popular every year, making their way into ski, bike, climbing helmets and more. Look for the little yellow circular “MIPS” logo to know that the helmet features the technology.