First Tracks into White Mountain Backcountry

A Human-Powered Snowsports Primer

By Jake Risch

The common backcountry thread is a desire to get away from the crowds, infrastructure, amenities, and safety net of the resort. It is getting back to skiing as a means of travel and exploration, to efficiently move through wild winter landscapes and interact with nature in its element. But the backcountry requires self-reliance, preparedness, and good judgement. Whether you’re taking your first steps off  the groomers or your next steps into high country, we’ll cover what you need to know and offer resources to work with here.

Nordic Backcountry Great Gulf Wilderness

We’re in a remote corner of the White Mountains following a solo track through 18 inches of fresh snow, headed for a little blue line on our map scrawled on the side of one of the region’s 4,000-foot peaks. We are grateful for the nameless adventurer who has broken trail for us this morning. As we climb upwards, sliding one ski in front of the other, zig-zagging through hardwood stands and snow-laden softwoods, we alternate between friendly small talk and silent reflection. Settling into the rhythm of the skin track, my mind wanders from anticipation of reward waiting at the top, to excitement about exploring this new zone, to the realization that I am perfectly content in this moment. Moving through the mountains, in deep snow, on a pair of skis with synthetic skins stuck to the bottom is satisfying on an evolutionary level.

Modern Nordic backcountry, telemark, alpine touring, and splitboarding gear provide unprecedented mobility, performance, and comfort and are fueling a boom in human-powered exploration away from the snow guns, grooming machines, and mechanical lifts of the resort. An economic impact study commissioned by the Granite Backcountry Alliance (GBA), a North Conway-based non-profit focused on promoting and advocating backcountry skiing in the region, estimates that nearly 10,000 backcountry skier and snowboarder visits to the local glades they developed, contributed $1M in local spending, which supports 16 local jobs.

We eventually catch the lone splitboarder and join forces, rotating trail-breaking duty as we push on to a GPS waypoint marking the traverse into the goods. The reward at the end of the climb was worth it. We quickly layer up, transition to ski mode, grab a quick snack, and begin the descent through a tight maze of krummholz. As we descend, the shots between trees get wider, with every turn eventually opening up into a classic New England brook bed. We take turns making fresh tracks through 2,500 vertical feet of bottomless powder. For our mixed crew, on alpine touring (AT), telemark, and splitboarding gear, we prove that there are friends on a powder day, especially in the backcountry—and what a day it was.

What Is Backcountry Skiing?

Backcountry (BC) skiing/snowboarding exists along a spectrum, ranging from exploring gentle rolling terrain along the fields and streams of the valleys on one end and climbing and skiing off of remote steep exposed peaks on the other. The common backcountry thread is a desire to get away from the crowds, infrastructure, amenities, and safety net of the resort. It is getting back to skiing as a means of travel and exploration, to efficiently move through wild winter landscapes and interact with nature in its element. The backcountry requires self-reliance, preparedness, and good judgement.

Backcountry Nordic skiers explore ski trails, hiking trails, farm fields, and closed Forest Service roads around the Valley. Lightweight telemark gear offers more support for trails with a more sustained downhill pitch. AT gear, telemark gear, and splitboard allow uphill mobility with full downhill performance to explore backcountry glades, historic ski trails, and the alpine terrain of the Presidential Range. Ski mountaineering adds technical winter climbing and mountaineering equipment to ascend and ski off of big peaks and steep technical lines.   

Exploring Beyond Groomed Nordic Trails

The Mt. Washington Valley (MWV) has many options for Nordic skiers to get off of the beaten track, away from the crowds, and enjoy this winter wonderland. Beginners and experts alike can find solitude exploring fields, forests, and river valleys.

EQUIPMENT

Backcountry Nordic gear excels in variable conditions by offering increased floatation, stability, durability, and mobility. BC Nordic gear allows skiers to step out of the established track and leave the groomed trails behind. The two main systems for BC Nordic are backcountry cross-country (BC XC) and light telemark. BC XC gear is best for exploring flat and rolling terrain and is sturdy enough to handle some extended downhills. Light telemark gear is great for longer, more sustained climbs and descents.

BC XC skis are wider than classical XC skis and have metal edges. The wider skis provide more float in soft and powder snow. Metal edges offer control on hardpack and icy conditions. The waxless fish scale bases common to BC skis and optional “kicker skins” increase uphill traction.

BC XC bindings are more rugged than their classical counterparts. Standard systems include NNN BC and 75mm “3-pin” light telemark bindings. With a wider plate to stand on, the NNN BC standard offers a more stable, durable platform than classical NNN bindings. The time-tested 75mm light telemark binding offers increased control on descents.

BC XC boots are sturdier and warmer than typical XC boots. They will have more ankle support and often have integrated gators. Nordic boots only work with compatible bindings.

BC ski poles are slightly shorter than classical ski poles for better maneuverability and have wider baskets for increased purchase in powder snow.

The “13 Essentials,” cell phone, emergency satellite communicator.

 

The 13 Essentials

The 10 essentials have been modified by many groups over the years. We reached out to Redline Guiding for their recommendations and were provided with this updated list. Add in additional safety equipment required by weather, duration, and location of your tour.

1.  Map, compass, and/or GPS*

2.  Extra clothing*

3.  Extra food/water*

4.  Headlamp(s) + spare batteries*

5.  First aid kit

6.  Whistle, noise maker

7.  Knife/multi-tool

8.  Lighter, fire-starter

9.  Cord or rope

10. Rain pants/jacket (seasonal)

11. Tarp or bivy

12. Foam sleeping pad

13. Varied protection*

* A pared down list of mandatory items may suffice on shorter adventures.

This list was provided by Redline Guiding, an independent guiding agency located in Intervale, New Hampshire .

WHERE TO GO

The opportunities for exploration with BC Nordic gear are limitless. Options include hiking, snowmobile, mountain bike, and ski trails, class VI and closed forest service roads, farm fields, and frozen ponds.

Our favorite Nordic Routes include:

• Nanamocomuck Ski Trail – Bear Notch Road to the Albany Covered Bridge

• Town Hall Road (winter closure) – Out and Back from USFS Gate

• Marshal Woods – Multi-use trail network on the West Side Road

• Avalanche Brook Ski Trail – Pinkham Notch Visitor Center to Jackson Village

• Wildcat Valley Ski Trail – Summit of Wildcat Ski Area to Carter Notch Road

SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS

The freedom and solitude of the backcountry come with responsibility. When BC skiers leave the organized trail networks behind, they also leave behind the safety net of an organized ski patrol. Once called, help can be hours away. In the event of an injury or gear malfunction, be prepared to self-rescue or hunker down and survive in the cold until help arrives.

• Carry extra dry layers, appropriate and warm for the weather, including a puffy coat.

• Basic first aid skills are helpful and advanced wilderness first aid training is worth it.

• Understand where cell phones work, and when traveling in a cell dead zone, consider carrying a satellite emergency communication device like the Garmin InReach™.

• Communicate the plan, including itinerary and expected return, to family or friends.

• On multi-use trails, be mindful of blind corners and make room for snowmobiles or fat bikes.  

Community Advice:  Nordic backcountry

NATE HARVEY

Describe a perfect day in the backcountry.

I really like shorter missions—being able to get to the route in less than 30 minutes and return home for a meal. I’m partial to 9 to 12 inches of fresh; you know, like the dry fluffy stuff that dreams are made of. A two-hour jaunt that is mostly downhill! Also, I’d prefer to have my hound with me–so it’s gotta be a dog-friendly tour.

What is your experience/skill level?

I am an avid Nordic and alpine skier—as in seven days a week for the past 30 years. My backcountry experience is pretty limited. Off-piste skiing is attractive to me, but I recognize the dangers and try to ski with others that are more knowledgeable than me. I’d say I am a master of crud skiing.

What is your favorite run to share?

Avalanche Brook is cool.

What do you use for gear?

NNN BCX6 Boots. Waxless skis around 90mm in the tip; 1/2 kicker skin if needed. Light and fun.

Any advice for newcomers to the sport?

Don’t wait for the perfect conditions mentioned above. Ski all terrain. Ski in the rain. Ski ice. Ski up and ski down. Do it again and again. This is New Hampshire—gotta go ski when you can.

LISA MCCOY

Describe a perfect day in the backcountry.

The perfect days for touring are when there are a few inches of fresh, light snow, with blue skies and cold temps. It’s amazing to me that you really don’t need a whole lot of coverage for Nordic backcountry skiing (as you would on AT), as you aren’t carving into the terrain quite as much as you would on a steep slope. I seek trails that have ups and downs with moderate grades and typically go out for roughly two to three hours on a tour.

What is your experience/skill level?

I am relatively new to the free-heel world; I grew up alpine skiing, and about five years ago got an AT set-up so I could start exploring different glades and chutes. Just this past year, I got a Nordic backcountry set-up so I could go adventuring in the woods and hills around the Mt. Washington Valley with my dog, Scout. Learning to Nordic ski has been awesome; it’s opened up a whole new world of playing in the snow for me.

What is your favorite run to share?

I work at Great Glen Trails, so I’ve really loved doing the Aqueduct Loop on my lunch break!

What do you use for gear?

Fischer BCX6 boots and Fischer S-Bound 98 Crown skis with a kicker skin, if necessary. 

Any advice for newcomers to the sport?

I am a newcomer! But I’d say don’t be afraid to ask for advice and questions. Talk to people, find out what they like, and DEMO! There are all sorts of opportunities out there.

Rental Equipment/Demos

Whether you’re getting into the backcountry for the first time or your looking to develop new skills, renting equipment can help identify which gear to buy, and at the very least, save a bunch of money.

These local shops can set you up with everything that you need!

Ski The Whites – Jackson, NH

mtnGEAR – Glen, NH

REI – North Conway, NH

Consignment/Used gear

Another good way to save is to consider consignment gear. You’ll find good equipment at a lower rate and also be doing your part in reusing and recycling.

The consignment shop at IME has AT and telemark ski gear, backpacks, ice axes and tools, climbing shoes, climbing gear, snowshoes, tents, sleeping bags, tons of clothing, and lots more. Ragged Mountain has most of that, plus more alpine and cross-country gear. REI sells consignment gear online as well.

IME – North Conway NH

Ragged Mountain Equipment  Intervale, NH

The 13 Essentials

The 10 essentials have been modified by many groups over the years. We reached out to Redline Guiding for their recommendations and were provided with this updated list. Add in additional safety equipment required by weather, duration, and location of your tour.

1.  Map, compass, and/or GPS*

2.  Extra clothing*

3.  Extra food/water*

4.  Headlamp(s) + spare batteries*

5.  First aid kit

6.  Whistle, noise maker

7.  Knife/multi-tool

8.  Lighter, fire-starter

9.  Cord or rope

10. Rain pants/jacket (seasonal)

11. Tarp or bivy

12. Foam sleeping pad

13. Varied protection*

* A pared-down list of mandatory items may suffice on shorter adventures.

This list was provided by Redline Guiding, an independent guiding agency located in Intervale, New Hampshire.

Know Before You Go

Advice for Traveling in Avalanche Terrain

“Know Before You Go” (KBYG) is a free avalanche awareness program developed by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and Utah Avalanche Center. Not much science, no warnings to stay out of the mountains, no formulas to memorize. In one hour, you will see the destructive power of avalanches, understand when and why they happen, and how you can have fun in the mountains and avoid avalanches.

For more information, visit www.kbyg.org

1. Get the gear
  • Always carry a beacon, probe, and shovel
  • Turn your transceiver on at the car and keep it on until you are back in the parking lot
  • Consider riding with an inflatable pack to stay on the surface in an avalanche
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Carry gear and supplies to survive an injury and long evacuation
  • Be able to communicate with your partners
2. Get the training
  • Take an avalanche awareness and rescue class
  • Learn how to provide first aid to an injured member of your party
  • Keep your skills current
3. Get the Forecast
  • Go to www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org and get the forecast before you go out
  • Note the expected avalanche problems and identify the appropriate tactics
  • Do the research: maps, terrain, and reports from others
  • Plan your tour: set objectives/restrictions based on prevailing conditions, group desires and capability; reach group understanding and consensus; let someone know the plan and expected return time
4. Get the Picture

Be aware of hazardous or changing conditions

  • Recent avalanche activity
  • Changing wind, snowfall, and temperature
  • Cracking or collapsing snow
  • Recent wind deposited snow

Compare observations to the forecast

  • Does it match? Reassess often

Use test slopes

  • Low consequence
  • Representative aspect and elevation
  • Be aware of any groups above and below
  • Never intentionally trigger an avalanche unless you are sure the area below is clear

Group Dynamics

  • Is anyone outside their comfort zone?
  • Is the group discussing options and concerns?
  • Identify safer and more hazardous terrain and minimize
  • your exposure
5. Get out of Harm's Way
  • Only one person on a suspect slope at a time
  • Don’t help a buddy find a lost ski or get unstuck in hazardous terrain
  • Cross or ride suspect slopes one at a time
  • Don’t stop in an area exposed to avalanche hazard
  • Watch each other, eat lunch, and regroup out of the way of a potential avalanche
  • Stay in voice and visual contact with your party
  • Don’t enter closed areas or any place undergoing mitigation work
  • Know what terrain traps are and avoid them

Leave No Trace

Reducing Impact

It’s important to be respectful of the backcountry. The Center for Outdoor Ethics and the Winter Wildlands Alliance collaborated on “Leave No Trace” ethics for backcountry snow sports. The organization is an alliance of over 100 grassroots environmental organizations and backcountry partners that formed in 2000, dedicated to promoting and preserving winter wildlands and a quality, human-powered snowsports experience on public lands through education, outreach, and advocacy.

Get more info at www.winterwildlands.org/leave-no-trace-ethics-longform 

Ethics and Backcountry Snowsports

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Practice safety first
  • Know where you are going
  • Know your own and your group’s limits, and minimize risks

2. Travel on Durable Surfaces

  • Stay on deep snow cover whenever possible

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack-it in, pack-it out

4. Leave What You Find

  • Leave only tracks

5. Minimize Campfire and Hut Impacts

  • Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a lantern or headlamp for light
  • Leave huts and cabins in better shape than how you found them

6. Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance
  • Never feed wildlife or leave food behind to be eaten
  • If you choose to bring your dog, keep it under control and do not let it harass wildlife

7. Be Considerate of Others

  • Respect landowners, both public and private
  • Respect other skiers/riders and all other users
  • When ascending trails, keep clear and yield to downhill traffic; when descending, always stay in control; go one at a time; and slow down near others

Ditching the Chairlift & Earning Your Turns

Getting a hold of alpine touring, telemark, or splitboarding gear opens up a world of adventure beyond the boundary of the local ski resorts. The Presidential Range, which is the birthplace of extreme skiing, is most East Coast skiers’ first introduction to steep alpine terrain and offers up technical ski mountaineering lines that challenge world-class athletes. The historic Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) ski trails and glades developed by GBA are popular spots for newcomers and veterans alike. Alpine touring offers quality skiing over quantity, fresh tracks days after the storm, and freedom of expression in the mountains.

Backcountry Alpine Skiing

EQUIPMENT

Modern AT, telemark, and splitboarding gear combine exceptional downhill performance with the ability to “skin” or ski uphill using synthetic climbing skins. AT gear unlocks at the heel, allowing a Nordic stride for climbing. On the descent, the binding heels lock down, enabling traditional alpine ski turns. Telemark gear is the traditional choice for balancing uphill and downhill performance. Modern tele-gear has features that improve both. Splitboard snowboards split in half longitudinally to work as skis going up and as a snowboard going down.

Any alpine all-mountain or powder ski paired with an AT or telemark binding works in the backcountry. Purpose-built AT skis are lighter and often have holes in the tips and tails to assist in building an improvised rescue sled. Typical waist widths range from 85mm to 120 mm. Narrower skis are more efficient going uphill and skiing variable snow. Wider skis offer more float in powder snow. Splitboards are purpose-built. Many snowboard companies are now offering split board versions of their popular boards. Voile offers a DIY kit to turn any snowboard into a split board with the help of a table saw.

AT bindings fall into three major categories: frame, tech, and transformer.

Frame bindings mount a traditional alpine step-in binding onto a frame with a pivot point in the front and a locking mechanism in the heel. Frame bindings retain all of the performance and safety features of alpine bindings and do not require specialized AT boots. They are the heaviest of the three, and because they require lifting, the weight of the binding off of the ski with every step is the least efficient going uphill.

Tech bindings have a set of steel “pins” that clamp down into special steel inserts in the toes of purpose-built AT boots. In uphill mode, the heel shifts free of the boot, allowing the boot to rotate on the pins. Tech bindings are the most efficient uphill. The steel-on-steel connection and lack of mechanical parts minimizes friction and resistance while climbing. Tech bindings weigh significantly less than frame bindings and all of the weight remains on the ski when climbing. Each company has slightly different heel mechanisms. The original tech design connects to the boot heel with spring-loaded posts that fit into special grooves. Other tech heel designs are similar to step in alpine bindings.

Transformer bindings are hybrids of the two systems. This new category of binding performs like a normal step-in alpine binding on the descent but “transforms” through origamic feats of engineering to offer tech performance on the way up. As of now, only Salomon and Marker are offering bindings in this category.

Telemark bindings have traditionally been the go-to binding for backcountry travel. Modern telemark gear offers a free pivot mode for reduced friction when climbing that locks for controlled telemark turns. There are even niche tech-tele hybrids available on the market.

Splitboard snowboard bindings can be quickly disconnected and reoriented for either uphill or downhill travel.

All AT and telemark boots have a walk/ski mode that allows the upper cuff to rotate freely when hiking, and locks forward for downhill ski performance. Most AT boots have Vibram soles for traction and agility when rock hopping and hiking. AT boots exist on a spectrum that trades downhill performance (stiffness and cuff height) for uphill performance (weight savings, range of motion). Any snowboard boot will work in a split board binding. Purpose-built boots are available that incorporate a walk mode, Vibram soles, and the ability to use step-in crampons.

Any alpine ski poles will work for touring as long as they have “powder baskets.” Race baskets are useless in deep, soft snow. Adjustable ski poles allow a longer pole length on the way up for a more Nordic stride and the ability to shorten the poles when attaching them to a backpack. For splitboarding, three-piece break-apart poles are available that offer the lowest possible profile when attached to a pack on the way down.

The “13 Essentials,” cell phone, camera, emergency satellite communicator, basic material to build a rescue sled, avalanche gear (beacon, probe, and shovel); if there is any possibility that you will travel in avalanche terrain, ski crampons, and crampons and an ice axe or whippet, if your tour includes boot packing up steep snow slopes.

WHERE TO GO

Until recently, options for backcountry skiing in the Mt. Washington Valley were limited to the alpine terrain of the Presidential Range, established historic backcountry ski trails, and elusive guarded secret stashes. Enter GBA. GBA has organized the BC skiing community, advocated with landowners, secured permissions, and turned out volunteers to develop gladed backcountry ski zones around the region. The MWV now has BC skiing options both in and out of avalanche terrain just minutes from downtown North Conway.

The MWV has great options for ski touring that stay out of avalanche terrain. The zones below are great choices for fresh powder days when the avalanche danger is elevated or for newcomers who have not yet taken an avalanche awareness and rescue course.

Our favorite Routes include:

• Maple Villa – GBA Glade in Bartlett, NH ~1,700’

• Baldface Glades (without the “Nob”) – GBA Glade in Chatham, NH ~2,000’

• Black Mountain Ski Trail – CCC Ski Trail off of Carter Notch Road

• Doublehead Ski Trail – CCC Ski Trail in Jackson

Sherburne Ski Trail – CCC Ski Trail accessed from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center

AVALANCHE TERRAIN

Avalanches are possible on slopes over 30 degrees and typically occur on slopes of 35 to 50 degrees. Any steep slope that is wide enough for ski turns can generate an avalanche. Larger and more connected slopes will produce larger and more destructive avalanches. Lower-angle slopes in the run-out of start zones are still considered avalanche terrain. Regularly skied avalanche terrain in the Mt. Washington Valley includes:

Gulf of Slides Ski Trail CCC Ski Trail accessed from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center (The top of GOS ski trail crosses multiple avalanche paths)

South Baldface and Baldface Nob – The alpine terrain above the Baldface Glades

Gulf of the Slides – Southernmost ravine on the east flank of Mount Washington

Tuckerman Ravine – The “Birthplace of Extreme Skiing”

Other areas – All other above treeline alpine terrain and slide paths around the White Mountains.

SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS

There are no ski patrollers in the backcountry. BC skiing/riding parties should be trained and equipped to deal with injuries. Rescue, once called, will likely be hours away.

  Carry enough warm layers to stay warm while waiting for rescue.

  Wilderness first aid training and the knowledge and ability to improvise a hasty rescue sled could save a life.

  Avalanche awareness and rescue training is essential for traveling in avalanche terrain.

  Understand and follow the principles of “Know Before You Go.”

  Carry a beacon, probe, and shovel—and practice searching for and digging out victims.

  Carry crampons and an ice axe when skiing the steep gullies and bowls of the Presidential Range.

Community Advice: Alpine Touring in the BackCountry

Andrew Drummond

Describe a perfect day in the backcountry.

Hitting the trifecta with bluebird weather, good snow, and great company. It’s rare that these all align, but being able to travel in the high alpine on skis is a remarkable experience that I seek each winter.

What is your experience/skill level?

I’ve been backcountry skiing for nine years now and would consider myself an expert in skill and knowledge of our local terrain, but I’m always learning and observing each year.

What is your favorite run to share?

Sluice in Tuckerman Ravine has been a favorite of mine for its sustained steepness and exposure to warm sun, given its southern exposure.

What do you use for gear?

I’m a huge fan of backcountry-specific alpine touring gear. I’ve been skiing on Fischer skis for 13 years and they make excellent skis for all conditions. Their Travers boot really changed the backcountry experience for me because of the comfort level, allowing me to put in back-to-back eight-hour days; boot fit is king when it comes to picking out gear.

Any advice for newcomers to the sport?

Go to a local shop and see the wide range of gear available. It’s important to gain a few reference points in fit, weight, and performance. I try to get customers on the gear before they buy it so they can be 100 percent satisfied with their investment. Second is to get a local guide to take you out in the backcountry. They will cover everything from trip planning to safety, and know the best spots to go!

Kristen Erickson

Kristen Erickson

Describe a perfect day in the backcountry.

The closest to perfection I’ve experienced was skinning up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to Hermit Lake at night in the middle of a powdery snowstorm, followed by skiing the Sherby by headlamp, making fresh tracks with awesome friends.

What is your experience/skill level?

I’m a beginner. I still have a lot to learn—especially if I want to hang with my son.

What is your favorite run to share?

I had the most fun and laughs on Doublehead, including falling over backward on a steep incline on the way up and into a brook on the way down.

What do you use for gear?

New last season: Rossignol Soul 7 skis with Dynafit ST Radical bindings and Scarpa Freedom boots. Prior to that, my son’s hand-me-down monster Blizzards with hefty bindings. What a relief!

Any advice for newcomers to the sport?

Start with short trips and work up to longer excursions. You need to preserve some strength to turn on the way down. Duct tape and moleskin to attempt to ward off blisters.

Katelin Nickerson

Katelin Nickerson

Describe a perfect day in the backcountry.

A perfect day in the backcountry would have more encounters with wildlife than with people. Skin track conversations would be positive, stimulating, and potentially involve making up alternative song lyrics. This day would be challenging either through endurance or terrain, or both.

What is your experience/skill level?

I have been skiing in the backcountry for about 10 years. I am comfortable in steep terrain and variable conditions. I have completed AIARE level 1, and wilderness first aid training. I am proficient with basic ski mountaineering skills.

What is your favorite run to share?

Hard to say—wherever the conditions are right for the day and objective.

What do you use for gear?

Scarpa F1 boots, Black Diamond Helio skis, Dynafit Speed Radical bindings. A good pair of softshell pants and a Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody.

Any advice for newcomers to the sport?

Enjoy the process and keep good partners you respect and trust.

Bethann Swartz

Bethann Swartz

Describe a perfect day in the backcountry.

I can’t have a perfect day in the backcountry without great partners. For group-dynamic and decision-making purposes, I generally like to keep my group on the smaller side. A perfect day can vary from skiing laps in the woods to climbing and skiing a technical line that gets me a little puckered on the way up. The common variable that all my nearly perfect days have is being outside with good people and everyone returning to the car in one piece.

What is your experience/skill level?

I would describe myself as a very experienced backcountry skier. I spent two winters as the AMC caretaker at Hermit Lake at Tuckerman Ravine. During that time, I was not only able to ski nearly every day, but I also spent a lot of time heading into the field with the USFS Snow Rangers and learned a lot from them. I have been able to glean skills from my partners and have taken my skills out to the volcanoes of the Cascades in addition to skiing throughout the Northeast. Along with my skiing skills, I push myself to be knowledgeable in other backcountry areas, such as taking my Avalanche Level 2, being a Wilderness First Responder, and an EMT.

What is your favorite run to share?

Aww, man. This definitely depends on the day, but I’d have to say that I have had a lot of fun, interesting, and special days skiing Dodge’s Drop.

What do you use for gear?

I always have my beacon, shovel, probe, crampons, and ice ax when I’m heading into avalanche terrain. As far as my set up, I mostly use my Dynafit Beast skis with Dynafit Radical bindings, Pomoca skins, and Scarpa Gea RS boots. My Patagonia R1 Hoody is a must. I always have Skratch hydration mix on long days and have a soft spot for Swedish Fish.

Any advice for newcomers to the sport?

ASK QUESTIONS. Make sure you like your boots and they fit well.

Local Non-Profits Supporting Backcountry Skiing and Search and Rescue

Want to give back? These local nonprofits support gathering and broadcasting critical weather and safety information, develop and maintain the backcountry zones, and support search and rescue efforts in the region.

Mount Washington Avalanche Center

Granite Backcountry Alliance

Friends of Tuckerman Ravine

White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation

Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol

Mountain Rescue Service

Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue

Appalachian Mountain Club NH Chapter Ski Committee

Mount Washington Observatory

Community Advice: Getting Youth Into Backcountry Skiing

Eric Derby

When North Conway’s Eric Derby first got into backcountry skiing, little did he know that his twin daughters would soon be following in his footsteps, er … ski tracks. Eric moved to the Valley from Bethel, Maine in 1995 to work at Attitash, and to continue his love for the sport. We sat down with Eric and the girls to learn a bit more about how they all got into backcountry skiing.

When did the girls begin to alpine ski?

Eric: They were 2 years old.

And when did they begin showing interest in backcountry skiing and skinning?

Eric: Probably about two years ago. They watched me doing it growing up, and we’ve boot hiked since they were around 6 years old. At some point I think they just finally realized it’s easier.

What are some of the biggest challenges in getting and keeping kids interested?

Eric: I’d say it’s probably just physical ability at such a young age—and patience.

What would you recommend to other parents hoping to get their kids into backcountry skiing?

Eric: Baby steps. We started on the first pitch of North Slope at Cranmore, then on to South Slope. Then we skied up the Auto Road when it opened in May to ski the snow fields on Washington. Since then, they’ve skied Tuckerman and in the Great Gulf.

Shannon & Dylan

We then turned to the girls to find out how they feel about their young backcountry skiing career. Both girls are 16 years old, and while Shannon is a skier, her twin sister Dylan is a snowboarder who uses a splitboard in the backcountry.

What do you like the most about backcountry skiing so far?

Shannon: I like getting exercise by doing something I love and having fun doing it. I also love skiing down after working hard to get there.

Dylan: My favorite part about backcountry skiing is being able to send it on fresh powder that not many other people in the Valley know about. I also love experiencing new and hidden terrain throughout the Valley. There’s something special about working for your turns that I find super rewarding

What do you like the least?

Dylan: Nothing!

Shannon: Probably having to switch over my bindings from uphill mode to downhill without gloves or mittens on and getting my hands get really cold and stiff.

What would you recommend for other kids your age (ish) interested in getting into backcountry skiing?

Dylan: For other kids who want to get into backcountry skiing, I say: do a little research, find some cheap, used gear that you can try out and just go for it. It doesn’t matter how good you are at first or what type of gear you have; all that others notice is that you are out there working for your turns and sending it.

Shannon: Find someone to skin with that you will have a lot of fun with and there will be no pressure. For me, my dad was a huge part in getting me into skiing, but our family friend, Amanda Tulip, was the person who got me really interested and made it fun for me.

Catch this article in the Winter 2019/20 printed edition of Mt Washington Valley Vibe available at any of these locations around the region