For years, Jeff Marcoux stood on the true summit of Black Mountain of Maine in Rumford, gazing at Rumford Whitecap Mountain off in the distance.
“That’s where I want to be,” he thought.
Marcoux founded the Angry Beavers — an organization dedicated to cutting and maintaining glades on Black Mountain of Maine — in 2010, and he has been an integral part of expanding the in-bounds tree skiing on his local hill. And the ability to ski off the backside, potentially accessing Whitecap Mountain, always was something he kept in the back of his mind.
But a large tract of forest, owned by the Mahoosuc Land Trust, isolated them — and their respective communities — from one another. Those looking to ski Whitecap Mountain often would start and end their tour in Andover, minutes from Sunday River.
“I’m over at Black, poking around up there, looking over toward Whitecap, and it’s just this dome peak with many different facets to ski off of,” recalls Marcoux. “And my curiosity just kind of piqued. But then you realize, it’s a long distance, with not a lot of support if something goes wrong.”
At 2,214 feet, Whitecap Mountain has an exposed, slab-covered dome summit that offers panoramic views and 360 degrees of skiing. The terrain is steep, avalanche-prone and offers exhilarating skiing for a mountain of its size. The summit snowfields have been skied by die-hard New England skiers looking to venture into Maine’s backcountry for years, but the dense second-growth forests made exiting the snowfields a challenge. And with minimal summit-to-summit ridge skiing available in New England, touring between the two peaks wasn’t much more than a pipe dream.
But when Marcoux began talking to Tyler Ray, founder of North Conway-based Granite Backcountry Alliance, it looked like his dream of accessing Whitecap from Black Mountain could become reality.
Ray began conversations with the Mahoosuc Land Trust and Black Mountain — both owners of land where cutting would occur — to discuss this vision of creating a human-powered ski zone connecting the two areas. Both parties expressed interest, and the project began to take shape.
“We were really excited about it because GBA and the Mahoosuc Land Trust have a lot in common,” says Kirk Siegel, founder of the Mahoosuc Land Trust. “We conserve land to benefit natural communities, and there’s nothing I can think of better for protecting these communities than a backcountry glading system that will bring folks to the area who will enjoy, respect and take care of the land.
When the cutting was completed over a two-day period by volunteers in October 2019, the new trail and gladed zones became the first in Maine to be cut on publicly accessible land. Now, users can access this remote terrain via a “backcountry gate” — common at many resorts in the western U.S. — and embark on an 8-mile point-to-point tour. Along the way, there are six gladed downhill zones that offer a variety of skiing through ecologically unique red pine forests and diverse ecosystems. Both sides offer uphill-specific skin tracks to access the zones. And while starting on the Black Mountain side does require an uphill pass, the amenities available can make it worthwhile.
The summit-to-summit tour, “backcountry gate” and ski zones on conservation land aren’t the only aspects of the project that are unique.
“From a deeper, more philosophical perspective, the project is exciting to me and Granite Backcountry Alliance because we’re connecting two different communities,” says Ray. “Sunday River and Andover is on the western side of the project. And the town of Rumford and a different ski community is on the other side.”
Ray has high hopes that this project and similar ones in the future will encourage skiers to explore new areas, stimulating the economy in small, often overlooked ski towns. “Sunday River has tons of traffic, but they kind of stop right there. So with this project we’re kind of encouraging people to keep going a little further, and it brings them to new communities, and they contribute to their businesses as well.”
This potential economic stimulation and merging of different communities is not so far-fetched. According to a study conducted by the Burlington, Vermont-based SE Group on behalf of Granite Backcountry Alliance at three new glades GBA helped design and build, almost $1 million in revenue was generated during the 2018-19 winter season.
“We know outdoor recreation has a direct measurable benefit on the economy in Maine,” says Siegel. “But this project is going to help grow this sport. This translates to hamburgers, draft beer and motel nights.”
Both Ray and Marcoux anticipate that this new project, which displays how skiers, landowners and communities can work together to create human-powered backcountry ski zones that benefit all parties and feed local economies, is just the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s going to be an eye-opener for a lot of people,” says Marcoux. “And I’m hoping that it’s just scratching the surface, because there’s a lot more we can do.”