It was inevitable perhaps, but when resorts shut down abruptly last March due to the coronavirus, throngs of skiers unwilling to let their seasons go so early grabbed their touring setups in pursuit of earning their own turns. One Saturday at Pinkham Notch, N.H., saw some 400 cars jammed and overflowing the trailhead parking area to access Tuckerman Ravine, prompting the U.S. Forest Service’s Mount Washington Avalanche Center to shut it all down out of concern for safety.
As a new spring approaches and threats from the virus persist, issues of overcrowding at Tucks — the undisputed king of spring in the backcountry — remain. These aren’t simply short-term concerns. Even after threats of the virus are long gone, the environmental impacts of overstressing Mount Washington will persist. Fortunately, Tuckerman Ravine isn’t the only game in town for skiers in search of spring corn. Far from it.
Thanks to an incredible amount of impassioned work in recent years by nonprofits including RASTA (Rochester/Randolph Area Sports Trail Alliance) and Granite Backcountry Alliance, dozens of new alternatives for the earn-your-turn enthusiasts have never been easier to access and enjoy. These alliances have ushered in a new era of “sanctioned glading” across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
The model was brought to the fore in 2013 when RASTA was formed. Here, a grassroots organization partnered with private and public landowners — including agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service — to develop backcountry ski trails. While its initial focus was to open ski access, the movement has since grown to include other forms of non-motorized, multi-use recreation spanning all four seasons. This formula caught on across the border in New Hampshire.
“Over the last four years, the Granite Backcountry Alliance has developed eight glade zones and maintained four historic Civilian Conservation Corps trails, totaling nearly 30,000 vertical feet of skiing in or near New Hampshire’s Presidential Range,” writes Tyler Ray, GBA’s founder. “We’re collaborating with five different landowner types (namely federal, state, municipal, land trust and private), we have nearly 600 members and volunteers who have committed more than 11,000 hours engaging with the land.”
Ray said over time, GBA has shifted away from a reliance on federal projects and focused on community forests, land trusts and other forms of local conservation whose management plans align with its recreational objectives. “We call this strategic initiative #GIMBY (Glade In My Backyard), because every community should be so blessed to have a glade zone in town.”
So, before packing up your backcountry setup and doing battle with hundreds of people at Pinkham Notch this spring, consider some of these emerging alternatives:
This public backcountry recreation area located south of Route 73 in Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest encompasses a growing number of gladed lines (nearing 20) with about 20,000 vertical feet of skiing and riding, all accessible from two trailheads leading up to a three-mile section of the Long Trail.
The terrain here, designed and developed by RASTA (the pilot chapter of the Vermont Backcountry Alliance) in partnership with the USFS, consists of four separate backcountry ski zones. All the skin tracks for these zones are marked by yellow RASTA tags and arrows, and entry into each of the zones is marked by wooden trail signs:
Bear Brook Bowl | Find the skin track from the Bear Brook Trailhead off of Brandon Mountain Road and ascend until you reach just below the top of Bear Brook ridge. From there, you’ll find entry into the longest and most challenging ski lines in Brandon Gap, each intersecting along their 1,300 vertical foot descent.
No-Name Zone | A moderately less challenging backcountry zone than what you’ll find in Bear Brook Bowl, this terrain also is accessible from the Bear Brook Trailhead (skin up to the Long Trail at 2,900 feet), or from the Long Trail parking lot at the top of Brandon Gap. The skiing here provides 1,100 feet of vertical along braided descent lines.
The Sunrise Bowl | This area has some of the easier terrain at Brandon Gap, providing about 500 feet of vertical on several braided lines. From the Long Trail parking lot, start your skin about three-quarters-of-a-mile south on the Long Trail and ascend to the Sunrise Bowl Backcountry Area.
Goshen Mountain | Access this picturesque area with great clear-day views by continuing up the skin track from the top of the Sunrise Bowl until you reach the summit area distinguished by its high-altitude meadows. From here, skiers will drop comfortably down open, low-angle terrain. Once below the meadows, you’ll get into more challenging, steeper lines that require higher ability.
Braintree Mountain Forest
In Braintree, Vt., RASTA and the New England Forestry Foundation have collaborated to develop gladed backcountry ski and ride zones within the 1,500-plus acres of forest land donated to NEFF in 2013 by Paul Kendall and his wife, Sharon Rives. Known as the Braintree Mountain Forest, this massive parcel includes four peaks in the Braintree Range, including Round Top, Twin Peaks, Skidoo and Braintree Mountain.
The backcountry ski and ride zones within this parcel have been developed along the eastern flanks of these four peaks. Trailhead parking and kiosk is located at the intersection of Riford Brook and Laroque roads.
Granite Backcountry Alliance
GBA in 2018 received approvals for the first authorized tree skiing projects in the White Mountain National Forest, including projects on Bartlett Mountain in Bartlett, N.H., and on South Baldface in Evans Notch, Chatham, N.H. GBA also has state projects in Lancaster (Mount Prospect), Franconia (Cooley Jericho Community Forest), Gorham (Pine Hill on private land owned by Gorham Land Company) and many others. Here’s a sample of what’s available:
Baldface | Located just over the border from Maine, Baldface Knob stands at 3,025 feet tall and its open slab now connects to new ridgeline glades that lead all the way down to the parking area at Baldface Circle Trail off Route 113. Skiers and snowboarders now can explore 600 acres of terrain with a vertical drop of 2,500 feet. The terrain here has been described as a smaller-scale but more modern version of Tuckerman Ravine, with above-treeline alpine zones up top funneling into a network of glades lower down. The glades begin steeply in the upper elevations and transition to mellow cruisers midway and toward the bottom.
Maple Villa Glade | This GBA project revived the abandoned ski trails that were cut on Bartlett Mountain, Intervale, N.H., by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1933. This 410-acre zone on Bartlett Mountain’s north slope blends a mix of expert to intermediate terrain across three separate zones, including a meandering skin track to the upper elevations. Park at 70 East Branch Road in Intervale.
Hypnosis Glade | Located just off Route 113 in Madison, N.H., this glade provides gentler terrain for skiers of all abilities. Access the skin track right out of the parking lot and ascend to the upper traverse to find four glade lines to choose from. Skier’s right offers open, twisty skiing perfect for kids, while skier’s left presents a more moderately challenging experience.
Ski Tow Glade | Four glade lines were developed in 2018 from the Mount Prospect summit in Lancaster, N.H. Each line drops some 700 vertical feet along the ski tow footprint. Park off Route 3 in Lancaster to begin your skin to the summit, where you can check out the stone tower and descent to the Ski Tow yurt.
Cooley-Jericho Glade | Newly developed in 2019, the “Cool J Glade” offers 800 vertical feet down four glade lines for all abilities with views of Mount Lafayette and Cannon Mountain along the way. This 840-acre forest encompasses four New Hampshire towns — Franconia, Sugar Hill, Easton and Landaff — each sharing stewardship with Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust. Park at 12 Trumpet Round Road in Easton for access.
Crescent Ridge Glade | Located in the 10,000-acre Randolph Community Forest in Randolph, N.H., five glade lines have been designed to appeal to all ability levels, with rewarding views of the northern Presidential Range. Glade lines range from 30- to 35-degree slopes up top to 20 to 25 degree in the middle and finally 10 to 15 degrees at the bottom, descending about 600 vertical feet in total. Park at the end of Randolph Hill Road for access. ′