Awakening from a night of restless sleep at the Hiker’s Paradise in Gorham, I casually stretched out on my bed and debated when I should rise for the day of skiing. I considered a late start to be worth while as the bank sign across the street was reading sixteen degrees. Packing up my gear and gathering my clothing choices for the afternoon, I was eagerly looking forward to and imagining my first foray into the realm of backcountry skiing on my new Alpine Touring rig. After a scrumptious breakfast served downstairs, I packed up my gear and drove south into the Notch.
I arrived at Pinkham Notch Visitors Center around nine and noticed I was not alone in considering today an excellent day to earn turns. Die hards of all sliding persuasions including alpine, AT, telemark, and snowboard were all gearing up at their cars. Snow enthusiasts on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail were evenly split between hikers and snow sliders.
The John Sherburne Ski Trail was ideal for my first foray into the Back Country for many reasons. I desired natural snow and during this lean snow year, Pinkham Notch has faired surprisingly well with recent online trip reports indicating the trail had decent cover, all things considered. Additionally, I was skiing alone and desired a popular trail in which I would hardly be alone despite not having a partner. The busy Tuckerman Ravine Trail provides safety in numbers for the solo skier. Finally, with 2000 vertical feet down a classic ski trail cut by early trail blazing pioneers, I was assured of an excellent decent on a legendary trail.
I applied my skins, clicked in, and started the ascent. I tried not to look too clumsy taking my first few free heel strides but quickly surrendered pride to experimentation. I quickly realized how many things I had prepared for correctly and also how many things I failed to prepare for enough. Most notably, I had failed to adequately layer my clothing. Despite the frosty sixteen degree temperature, I was quickly over heating and beginning to sweet through my base layer. Removing my ski jacket and replacing it with a fleece helped, but layering for touring is much different than laying for lift service.
I was surprised by the ease of motion of the binding allowing for a decent sized stride without feeling awkward. The skins were rock solid allowing me to easily slide the ski uphill without backwards slippage. Waterbars were quite tricky and after taking a header trying to clear an uncovered stream, I learned side stepping over them was more effective. Covered but not filled in waterbars were slightly trickier; but after watching a few other more graceful skiers on AT gear, I noticed the technique was to bend one knee telemark style then slide that knee back up when the motion stopped and the uphill commenced again.
Everyone on the trail was a gear fiend, many commenting, comparing, and discussing each others’ gear.. Several folks wondered how I faired in alpine boots on the touring bindings. One skier noted my excellent taste in skis. Alpine Trekkers were discussed with a gentleman hiking up bare boot with skis attached to his pack. And I compared notes with a fellow skier regarding his choice of Alpine Touring Boots. The Fritschi Freeride definitely seemed to be the binding favored by most skiers.
While skinning up, I had a huge rush of endomorphisms and adrenaline. Normally, I am a fair weather hiker only and never hike mountains during the winter. It was a much more invigorating experience requiring a much higher level of stamina and determination. Combining my love of hiking with my passion for skiing is a perfect match. While I knew I would take to touring quickly, I had no idea how deeply I would fall in love with the experience. Noticing fatigue and shortness of breathe only halfway up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, I smirked as I silently noted that weekly trips would be required to regain my proper fitness level.
Rare bluebird skies opened up all around the Presidentials in the early morning. I caught a sensational glimpse of the summit of Mount Washington from halfway up the trail. I clicked out of my bindings at one of the bridges to indulge my feet and posterior in a sitting position and my stomach to a snack. Soon after, a grand view of a cloud covered Tuckerman Ravine came into view just before HoJo’s after a two hour skin up. After snapping a picture, I anxiously finished the skin and clicked out to grab a seat on the deck and take in fine views and a satisfying lunch. The Ravine was in and out of the clouds while I was lounging on the deck at HoJo’s. However, as I removed my skins, the cloud cover lifted nearly completely and allowed for a grand view of the entire ravine. Wow.
My descent of the John Sherburne Ski Trail would be my first descent on my new skis, so I was anxious about their performance with the Freerides mounted on them. Their performance was satisfying, though I really didn’t have the conditions nor the pitch to push them too hard. Snow conditions featured a solid edge to edge base from top to bottom. Higher up near the ravine, the waterbars were fairly well covered but one would occasionally pop up that offered a delightful small jump. Down lower the water bars became deeper and more frequent becoming more annoying and disruptive than fun, but at least they were all well covered.
Two to three inches of light fluff had accumulated overnight, but skiers on dawn patrol had already tracked out the freshies. However, I was still able to glide through occasional untracked higher up. Occasionally a scraping sound could be heard as the pack was still slightly crusty due to the recent rain and freeze events; however, conditions were generally fantastic and I let out a snow happy whoop at least once during the descent.
My fatigue from the skin up became evident halfway down the Sherburne. Especially of note was my pinched heel and foot ache. I reflected on my decision not to remove my boots at HoJo’s as a poor one which might have alleviated the discomfort enough to ensure a pain free descent. Lesson learned for a future tour.
A fine first backcountry tour and a solid beginning to broadening the horizons of my passion with skis and snow. At HoJo’s, I signed the guest book: “First ever skin up, it’s all downhill from here.”