Local Book Review
By David Lottmann (GBA Ambassador)
Graniteland: A Guide to Granite Backcountry Alliance Glade Zones in New Hampshire + Western Maine
First Edition 2019 – Published by Backyard Concept and HeyFitzwilliam.com
Author: Not Listed
Over the last three years, the non-profit Granite Backcountry Alliance (GBA), has been hard at work “tackling East Coast tree density problems” and with the support of countless volunteers, land managers, partners, and sponsors, is now proud to maintain eight gladed zones in New Hampshire and western Maine for the backcountry enthusiast to enjoy. Self-described as both a coffee table conversation piece and an in-the-field reference book, Graniteland meets those claims at different levels.
The first half of the spiral-bound book covers information about the alliance, their mission, vision, annual events, economic impact, and how to become a member. Before getting to the glade zones information and how to prepare, readers are offered Leave No Trace principles, avalanche safety, and a graphic gear list.
The second half of the book covers the eighth glade zones and four Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) ski trails. Each zone section starts with a custom topographic map showing parking, uphill access (skin track), and different glade lines. The color chosen for the topo lines barely contrasts with the base map color, making actual terrain association a bit difficult. Luckily, GBA has created beautiful digital versions of these maps, available for free on the Avenza app, also free for both IOS and Android devices; a savvy reader with said app on their device can simply scan the QR code on the following page to have the map imported into their device. This also allows the GPS chip in the phone to show real-time position even when out of service and in “airplane” mode.
True to their support of the local economy, almost every glade description ends with recommendations on pre- and post-trip eats and drinks.
A description of each glade is given, including a difficulty rating, average time commitment, and vertical drop. I found it a little confusing that a “star” system is used for the difficulty rating, since in most guidebooks/reviews, stars are used to rate the quality of something. In the case of this guidebook, a “five-star” glade is not necessarily higher quality than a “one-star” glade, but the two are on the far extremes in terms of difficulty/commitment. True to their support of the local economy, almost every glade description ends with recommendations on pre- and post-trip eats and drinks.
The book concludes with short descriptions of four ski trails that were cut by the Civilian Conservation Corps. These trails are great options for new backcountry riders to get a taste of what backcountry riding is all about.
Graniteland is a nice physical rendition of what has been available online at the GBA website for a year or two. Thumbing through its pages easily gets me charged up for the quickly approaching winter! While the book can be purchased at local shops such as IME, Ragged Mountain Equipment, and Ski The Whites, you can also obtain the book by becoming a supporting member of GBA.
Visit granitebackcountryalliance.org for details.
Presidential Skiing: A Guide to Backcountry Skiing in New Hampshire’s Presidential Range
First Edition 2020 – Locke Mountain Press ISBN: 978-0-578-72065-4
Author: Kurt Niiler
The last decade has seen a significant increase in backcountry skiing and riding in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. While places like the iconic Tuckerman Ravine and neighboring Gulf of Slides have always seen substantial visitation, backcountry travelers have more recently been venturing all over the Presidentials to find more secluded turns. It seems to be the perfect time for Kurt Niiler to publish his new guidebook, Presidential Skiing: A Guide to Backcountry Skiing in New Hampshire’s Presidential Range.
While there have been other guidebooks written about skiing in the White Mountains, most notably David Goodman’s Backcountry Skiing Adventures: Classic Ski and Snowboard Tours in Maine and New Hampshire, copyright 1999, Kurt’s book is the first to focus in great detail on the rideable terrain within the Presidential Range.
Kurt’s book is the first to focus in great detail on the rideable terrain within the Presidential Range.
Before getting to the different regions, Kurt provides a short introduction to share the goals of the book: the first being to provide “a resource for those looking to provide a ski outing,” the second is “to act as a record of what has been skied in the Presidential Range,” which is why some “obscure and ephemeral routes are still included.”
Following the introduction, two pages of history give the reader a glimpse of the rich history that surrounds skiing in the Presidential Range over the last 100 years, including the ground-breaking descent of the Tuckerman Headwall in 1931 and legendary 1939 “Inferno” race, in which Austrian Toni Matt flew from the top of the mountain to the bottom in just six minutes and 29.2 seconds—a record that still holds today! For those who want to read more of this history, a reference is made to Jeff Leich’s book, Over the Headwall: The Ski History of Tuckerman Ravine.
A little over a page is devoted to the geology of the range, and just shy of a page to the unique mountain weather the range experiences.
Following the information on whether Kurt provides a solid gear list for reference along with information on local specialty retailers, all who can offer great local advice and some who offer rental equipment if someone in your group forgot to pack their skins!
Readers will then find a list of resources regarding land management and various organizations that are stakeholders in protecting this precious resource; all to help the general public make educated decisions. Perhaps one of the most important ones—especially considering the steepness of the routes described in this book—is the Mount Washington Avalanche Center (MWAC). Almost every route listed in this book is steep enough to produce an avalanche within the forecasting area of MWAC. Once the snowpack has sufficiently developed, you can find almost daily forecasts at www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org.
Finally, before getting into the routes themselves, an icon legend and objective information is covered. In addition to approach and descent routes, Kurt utilizes an objective three-star quality rating system with one-star routes being “worth checking out if you’re in the area” to three-stars being “a classic and must-do for the area.” Important logistics like vertical drop, max slope angle, and aspect are included, along with abbreviations for “mandatory air” or “technical” skills needed—think ice axe and crampons!
Now we come to the first “zone,” the Northern Presidentials. Here, Kurt lists routes and ravines that have never been published in a book before, namely King, Castle, and Jefferson Ravine. While the Great Gulf was covered in David Goodman’s book back in 1999, it only covered the two most popular routes, Airplane and Pipeline gullies. Kurt’s book describes no less than 12 descents into this vast wilderness area.
Presidential Skiing is a timely addition to any aspiring or experienced East Coast backcountry skier or rider’s library.
The second zone, “Mount Washington East,” covers the well-known Tuckerman Ravine, but also includes information on its neighbors, Huntington Ravine and the Gulf of Slides, along with less known lines on the Boott Spur ridge, and the summit cone eastern snowfields.
Zone three is comprised of the west side of Mount Washington, namely “The Cog,” and Burt and Ammonoosuc ravines. This reviewer was somewhat surprised to see a relatively new slide path in this area—that has become a locals’ favorite run—was omitted from this section. Perhaps some gems are best left to word of mouth, though a keen reader might find this route if they study the amazing aerial photography included in this book!
The final fourth zone makes up the Southern Presidentials all the way down to the long gullies on Mount Webster in Crawford Notch. No less than 18 lines are described in this section.
I’ve made it this far and have barely mentioned one of the most notable features of this guidebook: the photography. Almost every area is covered with amazing aerial photography, which greatly helps locate the described routes. Beyond that, the action photography in this book is so inspiring. Over a dozen talented photographers contributed real stoke-filled images of skiers ripping down these aesthetic lines, many in beautiful two-full-page layouts.
Presidential Skiing is a timely addition to any aspiring or experienced East Coast backcountry skier or rider’s library. Within its pages you’ll discover the necessary information to locate and help plan years of adventures. The images inside will inspire you to wake up at 3 a.m. and become part of the “dawn patrol” crowd—those backcountry travelers who understand an alpine start is worth watching sunrise break as you skin above the treeline.
Presidential Skiing is available from presidentialskiing.com, International Mountain Equipment, and White Birch Books, both located in North Conway, NH.