They call it the bible of Northeast backcountry skiing, and that’s kind of how my interpretation of David Goodman’s seminal “Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast” has evolved over the years. When I was new to the concept of off-the-grid ski exploration sometime during the early ’90s and was eager to get into some terrain — any terrain — other than Tuckerman Ravine, Goodman’s first book of enlightenment somehow found its way into my moderately reckless hands.
At that time, I wasn’t seeing hordes of people making the exodus from chairlift to trailhead in pursuit of a passion to earn their own turns. The disciples I witnessed dabbling were mostly wearing hiking shoes with skis and boots strapped to and stuffed into their backpacks, expertly wedged around some loose cans of beer. The one or two telemark skiers with skins that I’d come across between Pinkham Notch and Lunch Rocks were a novelty back then.
I was largely ignorant, of course, and Goodman’s work opened the eyes of so many others like me out there to countless possibilities that exist for backcountry ski excursions, not just the tours he has included in his books, but wherever we choose to go out looking for them. His books haven’t singlehandedly ushered in a golden age of backcountry, not by any stretch. But over the course of three decades, his knowledge and insight serve not just as a “how-to” guide for completing a given tour, but a “how-to” roadmap to living the lifestyle.
His books deserve a great deal of credit for the steady rise in interest in backcountry skiing, especially during a period of time he calls the “extended dormancy.” In biblical terms, the heyday of backcountry skiing began in about 10 B.C., before chairlifts, but has been mostly dormant during the reign of the resorts.
It was in the 1930s, when thousands of unemployed men were dispatched in a massive Depression-era jobs relief program to the mountains of the Northeast to cut trails. The Civilian Conservation Corps were the true pioneers of backcountry skiing, which ultimately led to the massive development of resort skiing that we see today. During this period, the only skiing available was backcountry skiing. Goodman’s earliest writings on the topic were a result of his seeking out and skiing these old trails from the ’30s. Many no longer exist, many are in-bounds at popular ski resorts.
But things have changed dramatically. Sales of uphill-capable alpine ski touring equipment went through the roof during this past offseason, a likely result of consumer doubts that resorts would be able to remain open during the global pandemic. Goodman sees the resurgence as reconnecting a circle to the 1930s. The quality of the equipment and apparel required, however, has never been better.
“There has been an unbelievable spike in interest in backcountry skiing, which is a wonderful thing, but we have to get ready for it,” Goodman cautioned during his 30th anniversary edition virtual book launch hosted Dec. 3 by the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum as part of its Writers on the Red Bench series. “The new equipment that’s available now, alpine touring equipment, has really lowered the bar to entry for resort skiers who want to make the switch. But I would emphasize that the backcountry is not a resort.”
That’s why the latest edition of the bible is so important. In addition to featuring 50 (actually closer to 70 or more) trips through New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, New York and Massachusetts, it will help you learn how to prepare for these adventures with references on when to go, what to bring and must-have backcountry safety skills.
Goodman includes extensive coverage of Tuckerman Ravine, the Catamount Trail, Jackrabbit Trail, the historic Thunderbolt Ski Trail, as well as backcountry huts and lodge-to-lodge skiing in Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness. Each trip comes complete with a description, distance, elevation, topographic map, difficulty rating, directions and other tools to help plan your adventure.
“My book is not meant to be the last word on backcountry skiing, it is hopefully the first word,” Goodman said. “What I want people to realize is you can ski anywhere that is white. From the places that I introduce people to, I hope they go further. I hope they find new places.”