Skinning up a foot and a half of fresh on Middle Cannon, I realized I was skiing Cannon the way it was originally done. Ski trails were cut long before the Tram began whisking skiers to the wind blown summit of Cannon Mountain. The truly devout skiers of the early 1930’s would make two or three ascents of Cannon on a good day following a big storm earning untracked fresh every run. I followed in their footsteps, earning turns on the best snow possible where ever and when ever it falls.
The development of Cannon as a ski area increased the mountain’s trail count and eventually widened many of its narrow and twisty classics. But the character and feel of the mountain still lingers including the dedication of its skiers. Nearly 70 years after the original Tram was constructed at Cannon, the die hards are still earning turns and being rewarded for their efforts. Our skin tracks paid silent homage to those early skiers who earned their runs without the benefits of short fatties, wicking clothing, and high tech touring gear.
An early season Nor easter materialized suddenly from the remnants of passing Hurricane Wilma. Weathermen scrambled to predict an erratic storm with unreliable models. The consensus developed that upper elevation terrain was going to be slammed by heavy snow. I canceled my Wednesday 2:30PM car appointment and changed plans to include dropping into a foot and a half of fresh. Tuesday evening the reports began boasting of snow fall measured in feet, not inches. The second major snow storm of October roared into New England much to the glee and delight of turn earners across the region.
Approaching Cannon from the North, I spied dozens of lines gracing the tauntingly steep and wide Front Five of Cannon. Most of the tracks had been made on Avalanche which seemed to benefit from the combination of best cover, pitch, and filled in water bars. The Tram parking lot was far from deserted at 2:30PM despite Cannon’s opening date being a month away. I quickly geared up and headed for the gentle slopes of Banshee to begin my skin.
The snow averaged approximately 6-8 inches down low and quickly deepened as I ascended. I soon reached the Tram Cut Back and traversed up to Avalanche where I found foot deep snow and two snow boarders laughing with glee as they descended into powdery bliss. I continued up the Tram Cut Back until reaching the unload station of the Zoomer Chair. Unlike my ascent of Cannon Mountain, the skin track suddenly ended much to my chagrin. I began breaking trial up Middle Cannon and noticed the snow had considerably deepened in many areas at mid-mountain. Drifts as deep as two feet spotted the trail, while a more consistent measure of 14″ average was observed with my weary strides through the untracked.
Thankfully I was not the first person to ascend Cannon above the Front Face as I soon spied a powder trail from a snow board. I utilized the track for skinning switchback style up Middle Cannon. My excitement grew as I noticed the moisture content of the mid-mountain snow was substantially less than that of the lower mountain. While not a dry powder, I knew powder turns would definitely be made during the descent.
At the Paulie’s Extension intersection, I came to an abrupt halt as a deer gracefully bound down Middle Cannon. I froze in awe as I watched the magnificent creature bound for Paulie’s Extension and warmer, less snowy conditions. For above Middle Cannon, the snow was still flying and the wind was starting to howl. A sign of conditions to come.
The stretch of skinning from the Extension intersection to the unload station of the Peabody Chair was steady and exciting. Upon reaching the Peabody Chair unload station, I had to decide how best to attack the Upper Mountain in my summit attempt. With a car parked at the Tram, a descent of Taft Slalom, Upper Hardscrabble, Upper Ravine, Skylight, or Profile would put me on the wrong side of the mountain unless I wanted to traverse. I opted to skin up Tramway in a bid for the summit. Upon reaching Tower Two, an eerie silence gave way to a roaring wind. Snow conditions dramatically worsened above Tower Two despite more than ample coverage. I skinned up 200 vertical feet above Tower Two before skinning over to a rock and taking a break to reassess the ascent.
Despite finding a quiet and calm nook, the wind roared above my head with threatening menace. Visible light seemed to diminish heralding the nearing of dusk. After considering the marginal and wind blown snow conditions and my lack of a partner, I decided it best to end my ascent and switch over to downhill mode. There will always be other days with better conditions for a summit.
Before beginning my epic descent, I took in my beautiful surroundings with humble appreciation. I was standing on Cannon Mountain at 3800 feet above sea level during the tail end of an incredible winter storm. Up to a foot and a half of snow fell on Cannon with an overall average of about 14″ of white gold. The trees were caked with white frosting within a winter wonderland of the spirit. It looked and felt like mid-winter but only a calendar would say other wise.
My first turns were purely survival based as I quickly remembered that I was beginning my second run of the season, in natural snow and powder conditions no less. Snow conditions on the Upper Mountain were certainly not helpful in reacquainting my muscles with proper ski technique and form. As I approached Middle Cannon, my turns became less labored and more fluid until I finally found my rhythm. Untracked powder flowed around my body as I descend into snow legends are made of. I began screaming and hollering, offering verbal praise and approval to any one and no one at all. Untracked powder is any skier’s dream, but such an experience in October initially felt like pure fantasy and day dream.
But it was real. It was so real. And it was so good.