Author David Goodman will claim no clairvoyance on his part for the timing, a “perfect storm” for his work on backcountry skiing.
This month’s release of the 30th anniversary edition of his “Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast: 50 Classic Ski and Snowboard Tours in New England and New York,” couldn’t have come at a more opportune juncture. A curiosity in the backcountry is exploding, not only with skiers and riders looking to socially-distance themselves from the crowded slopes of the Northeast in the midst of the pandemic, but also with the advancement of alpine touring equipment technology (not to mention the exorbitant cost of lift ticket prices).
“With the evolution of backcountry ski equipment, pretty much any resort skier can, pretty easily, transition to skiing in the backcountry without learning how to telemark ski,” Goodman said, also stressing the need for backcountry skills and education about avalanche awareness. “But the actual skiing in the backcountry is really accessible to more people than ever.”
Goodman should know. Backcountry skiing has been his passion since the late-80’s, when Appalachian Mountain Club commissioned him to write the first edition of what has become a bible of sorts for the “earn your turns” crowd.
He later learned that his writing it was a controversial move, noting that he received a phone call from a books editor explaining that the AMC viewed itself as hiking organization. The purists thought he had no business doing a book about skiing.
“I was very amused when I heard that because, as a ski history buff, I knew that the AMC was one of the foremost promoters of skiing back in the 1930’s,” Goodman said.
It was during that decade when so-called snow trains whisked thousands of passengers from Boston’s North Station and Penn Station in New York, to the mountains on AMC-organized trips. “That was very emblematic of the arc that I was closing the circle on,” Goodman said, “The heyday was in the 1930’s, and it was on all the mountains where we do our downhill now, before the lifts.”
Thanks to work from the Civilian Conservation Corps, the highest peaks in New England had trails cut on them, and people would go to pursue what they called “down-mountain” skiing or “walkup” skiing, Goodman said. On a good day, Mount Greylock’s Thunderbolt trail, located in Massachusetts’ Berkshire County, might welcome 5,000 skiers.
But when the ease of the lifts came, backcountry skiing went into a period of dormancy.
“It didn’t disappear because a lot of locals preserved [the trails], they liked the experience,” said Goodman, a graduate of Harvard with a degree in history. “But when I showed up in the 80’s, the AMC did not have a strong idea about what a ski book ought to be.
“I loved this history and I wanted to combine my interest with mountaineering and travel.”
The book ended up selling many more than the 100 copies Goodman figured he’d hand out to family and friends, and the AMC has been calling him every decade to update it.
This 30th anniversary edition is the fourth iteration of the book, and it’s an update that Goodman has been working on for the last three winters, long before any added interest in backcountry would become a factor of the pandemic. Call it a perfect coincidence that the release comes at a time when sales of backcountry equipment is soaring.
If you think that little can change when it comes to backcountry skiing over the last 30 years, think again. According to Goodman, everything has changed.
“The entire landscape has changed,” Goodman said.
From what once used to host a counter-culture crowd, backcountry skiing has, dare we say it, encroached into the mainstream. By the time he went to update the book from its previous edition, in 2010, an entire backcountry skiing movement has blossomed in New England. In Vermont, Goodman credits the Rochester/Randolph Area Sports Trail Alliance (RASTA) with becoming the first group in the country to partner with the forest service for sanctioned and managed glading. “It’s hard to understate how significant a development that is,” Goodman said.
In 2016, Granite Backcountry Alliance came along, in New Hampshire and Maine, and took things to a whole new level. “The proliferation of sanctioned glade zones that they have created and continue to create is remarkable,” said Goodman, who added all of the new zones into his book.
That also meant that some destinations had to go, failing to make the cut for the final 50. “Things that were good 10 years ago often fade,” he said. “The trails are not maintained.
“The bar has been raised in terms of the quality of the skiing. A tour that might have just made the cut perhaps no longer stands up to the competition.”
Goodman said that he has always considered what he does in the guide book to be the first, not the last word. “So, I hope to inspire people,” he said. “But what’s contained in these 310 pages is the beginning of where you can ski backcountry in the Northeast, not the end.”
So, where does Goodman, in fact, suggest one begins on a a quest to learn the ins and outs of backcountry skiing? Try the Sherburne Trail on Mount Washington, perhaps the most-popular backcountry trail in the East. “ It’s 2 1/2 miles to the top of the trail, and there you get a two-mile descent,” Goodman said. “Wide trail, un-groomed snow, beautiful views. It really has it all. It’s a perfect place to have your first adventures.”
One spot that won’t be in the book is among Goodman’s favorites, close to his home in Vermont. While making the final selection of tours to be included last spring, he got into an argument with his wife, who insisted her husband not include their go-to trail.
“If you do that we’ll never have a place where we can just get out and get a two-hour lap,” she told him. “I’d better not open the book and read that.”
That’s censorship, Goodman argued, maintaining that the trail wasn’t exactly a secret.
“I do what my wife tells me,” he said.
We’ll have to wait on that one. Maybe it will make into the 40th anniversary.
Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast: 50 Classic Ski and Snowboard Tours in New England and New York is available now.