Spring brings skiers to Mount Washington

ROB BURBANK May 03. 2014 1:24AM

It's May 4. Do you know where your skis are?

For a lot of die-hard downhillers, they're still clamped to their feet.

Throngs of spring skiing enthusiasts continue to head for the high country and the challenging runs in Mount Washington's Tuckerman Ravine.

Mount Washington is a bit of a snow magnet, and most of the snow that falls on the Northeast's Highest peak eventually blows into the natural amphitheater that is Tuckerman Ravine on the mountain's southeastern side.

That snow can get 40, 50 or even more feet deep, and it takes a long time to melt, a fact that brings joy to lovers of "corn snow" - a coarse, granular wet snow most commonly found in the spring.

Tuck's isn't for everyone. It's home to some of the most extreme skiing in the East, with pitches reaching 55 degrees. And you have to earn your turns. A run in the ravine can only be accomplished after hiking about 2 1/2 miles uphill, carrying skis and other supplies on your back (or dragging them up in a sled, as some folks prefer to do). And a day in the ravine is a day outdoors. There's no ski lodge to duck into, so visitors need to be prepared for changes in the weather with appropriate clothing. Nor is there food service up there, so food also needs to be carried in. A pump provides potable water, but be sure to start your hike with a full bottle or two. A minimum intake of two quarts of water per day is recommended.

Even those without the skill to handle the steep skiing terrain in Tuckerman Ravine are drawn to the place, eager to watch others negotiate the steeps. On a sunny spring weekend, it's not unusual to find more than 2,000 people in the ravine.

The trip to Tuckerman comes with hazards of which skiers, snowboarders and spectators alike should be aware.. Avalanche. The slopes are prone to avalanche. The U.S. Forest Service issues avalanche advisories that visitors to the ravine should read and heed. They are posted at the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, at the Tuckerman Ravine trailhead and online at mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.com.

-- Ice fall. Hundreds of tons of ice build up on the lip of the ravine over the course of the winter, and eventually it all comes down. Car-sized chunks of ice can dislodge and hurtle into the bowl below. Skiers and spectators should not congregate in areas where ice fall is likely. And whatever their location, they should be on the look-out for falling ice and immediately ready to move out of the way or take cover.

-- Undermined snow and open crevasses. As snow melts and water runs beneath the snow, the snowpack can become undermined. Crevasses can open up. Skiers should give such areas a wide berth.

It's important to hike up the terrain you intend to ski down, so you can assess the snow conditions and be aware of places to be avoided.

-- Sun exposure. On a warm spring day, the ravine can be a great place to catch some rays, but be sure to wear sunglasses and use plenty of sunscreen. The snow-covered walls of the ravine are highly reflective and can contribute to sunburn for those not adequately protected.

A visit to Tuckerman Ravine, whether to challenge the slopes or just take in the scene, is a rite of spring in these parts. And some years, the skiing continues into summer.

More information is available at outdoors.org and mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org.

Rob Burbank is director of media and public affairs for the Appalachian Mountain Club (outdoors.org) in Pinkham Notch. His column, "Outdoors with the AMC," appears monthly in the New Hampshire Sunday News.

Outdoors with the AMC

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