The Fight to Grow Backcountry Skiing in New Hampshire

A new backcountry alliance is working to convince the Forest Service that pow is legit.


There’s skiing in them hills. Though not typically thought of as a hub of backcountry skiing, the East Coast has a long history of off-piste shredding. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, created alpine and nordic skiing trails in New Hampshire and western Maine—most notably Mt. Washington’s Tuckerman Ravine. Those trails have gone unmanaged for decades, though, and have fallen into disrepair. Legal access to much potential backcountry terrain has become impassible, too. But now there’s surging effort to bring a lot more good to the people, with the nonprofit Granite Backcountry Alliance as the centerpiece.

“New Hampshire and western Maine are blessed with a rich ski history that includes a deep heritage of backcountry skiing,” says GBA president Tyler Ray. “Our plan to identify and develop new ski glades will be in close collaboration with both public and private landowners.”

tyler-rips-a-skin-before-booting-up-hillmans-highway-march-2016

The goal of the GBA is to push for restoration, expansion, and maintenance of the CCC trails, while also looking for places to develop new terrain. The alliance will work with property owners who might want to steward their land for skiing. And they also hope to improve the permitting of public lands.

The 2005 Forest Plan of the White Mountain National Forest, an 800,000-acre parcel located on the New Hampshire and Maine border, doesn’t currently recognize backcountry skiing for permitted recreational use. The GBA hopes to convince the WMNF otherwise and is trying to work with the Forest Service in the upkeep and management of glades and ski trails. They will present glading proposals for the 60-plus abandoned CCC trails in New Hampshire, as well as new trail options, to the WMNF in the spring of 2017.

“We think the prospect of resurrecting select trails creates a compelling historical story,” Ray explains. “One that may be persuasive to not only the decision makers at the WMNF but to the public at-large.”

ttr-1-30-16-skiis-gulf-of-slides-on-mt-w

To help, the GBA has partnered with Winter Wildlands Alliance—a national nonprofit that promotes backcountry experience on public land. Fifteen years ago, a similar situation occurred in the White Mountains with regard to mountain biking. There was a huge user base but no sanction advocacy group, which lead to the creation of an illegal and often dangerous trail network.

Eventually, the White Mountain chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association was formed and worked along side the USFS and WMNF. This led to mountain biking’s inclusion in the 2005 Forest Plan. Similarly, the GBA looks to accomplish the same positive impact for skiers as the work of the Vermont Backcountry Alliance, which, in the last two years has gladed over 20,000 vertical feet of terrain in the Green Mountain National Forest.

“While many groups have formed in the face of adversity, we are forming the Granite Backcountry Alliance on a proactive basis to create a unified voice for backcountry skiers,” Ray says. “We see what is coming down the pipeline and the need to secure a seat at the table with other recreational interest groups.” The fear is that unauthorized use of backcountry zones and the creation of illegal ski trails and glades will lead to a complete shutdown of access. Furthermore, Ray and company want to form the alliance as an educational tool to curb unpreparedness, injury, and preventable skiing deaths. “We’d like to help provide authorized below-tree line opportunities to disperse crowds and segment areas for different skill levels and abilities,” Ray explains.

tyler-and-colin-wroblewski-gain-the-ridge-in-the-gulf-of-slides-mt-w-nh-february-2016

Skiing in the East is often stereotyped as bearded Patriots fans gutting it out on the “Ice Coast.” Temperatures vary dramatically, storms are unpredictable, forests are thicker than a Southie accent, and the limited ski terrain can often resemble a vertical hockey rink. There’s a growing backcountry skiing population in need of more skiable and legal backcountry options. Ray and the GBA hope to preserve their skiing history in order to secure their backcountry future.

“There is a lifetime of ski terrain in the Whites,” Ray remarks. “And that is what makes this area special. We want to help the critical mass ease into the sport, not just rag-doll over the lip at Tuckerman Ravine…It’s more than just face shots and pow turns…although, there is some of that, too.”

Photos by Christopher McKay

Adventure Journal relies on reader support. Please subscribe to our amazing printed quarterly or pick up an issue here.

Showing 3 comments
  • Paul
    Reply

    Thanks for covering this. To be a stickler, the CCC didn’t turn Tuckerman Ravine into skiable terrain – nature did that on its own. They cut the well-known Sherburne Ski Trail that is the usual way people descend from the ravine. “The Sherb” is a popular run in its own right, often skied when the bowl of Tuckerman is not safe.

  • Butch Chamberlain
    Reply

    This is true. Tucks in a natural area, not carved out by man, or machine. The Sherb, is the only thing from the Ravine down to the parking lot that is truely CCC. I am glad however that there is a bonifide group out there that is trying to promote and keep the backcountry experience alive. I know of a lot of people starting out in BC skiing and go for the big stuff like Tuckerman, but that is not the good way to go about it. Tuck’s is NOT for the novice to ski. Please understand that you have to match your ability to the available terrain. It doesn’t work the other way around. So if there is an advocacy group out there, bring it on, and spread some good words and possible directions for the ones just starting out. Thanks!!!!!!!!!

  • Steve
    Reply

    There is a variety of fine terrain in the Northern Presidentials, from The Seven in King Ravine, to the easy snowfields on the west side of Jefferson and around Sam Adams& Adams 4 to some truly sick gully lines (some still virgin?) in Jefferson and Castle ravines. People have been skiing many of these for decades. There were folks snurfing trails on Nowell Ridge on Adams a few years before Jake Burton produced his first snowboard.

Leave a Comment

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This