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April 01. 2012 8:30PM

Early spring, then winter again in Tuckerman Ravine

SPRING-LIKE conditions came to Tuckerman Ravine early this year, with skiers making turns and soaking up sun in recent weeks in the famed glacial cirque on Mount Washington. Observers likened conditions to those more typically associated with late April.

But by early last week, snow, wind and cold temperatures had returned, a change in the weather that led to hard and icy conditions.

Snow rangers with the U.S.

Forest Service were warning skiers about the potential for sustained, sliding falls, given frozen terrain, noting that most steep slopes were being considered “no fall” zones.

They were also recommending use of ice axes, crampons and mountaineering boots to negotiate the terrain.

With more than 5 inches of new snow recorded between last Sunday and late Tuesday, coupled with sustained cold temperatures, U.S. Forest Service Snow Ranger Chris Joosen noted in his Avalanche Advisory from the Mount Washington Avalanche Center that it didn't look like much coverage would be lost..

While avalanche danger was rated as “low” late last week, he acknowledged the potential for that to change to a rating of “moderate,” with any additional snowfall..

Hikers and skiers heading into the ravine should check the avalanche advisory and weather forecast before heading up the trail. Avalanche advisories and weather and trail conditions are posted at the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center at the Tuckerman Ravine Trailhead. Avalanche advisories are also posted online at tuckerman.org.

Mount Washington and its famed Tuckerman Ravine are known for rapidly changing weather and terrain. In addition to being alert to the potential for avalanches, visitors to the ravine should also be aware of other potential hazards, including: • Ice fall. Tons of ice accumulate on the lip of the ravine, and as conditions warm, it all comes down, some as meltwater and some in car-sized chunks that hurtle to the floor of the ravine. Hikers, skiers and spectators should be alert for ice fall and prepared to seek cover or move out of the way of falling ice.

• Open crevasses and undermined snow. Snow rangers report that undermined snow and open crevasses have appeared in the ravine, most notably “in the sluice, through the lip and into the center headwall,” according to Joosen's March 28 advisory. Snow rangers advise that skiers climb up the route they intend to ski down. That way, they can become aware of snow conditions and avoid hazardous areas.

• Sunburn. The snow-covered surfaces of the ravine are highly reflective and the risk of sunburn can be reduced by wearing sunscreen.

A backcountry ski area managed by the U.S. Forest Service in the White Mountain National Forest, Tuckerman Ravine is home to some of the East's most extreme ski terrain. It's a true backcountry experience, with no snow-making or snow-grooming, no ski lodge offering shelter and no ski lifts. Terrain is steep — with 50-degree pitches common and a maximum pitch of 90 degrees.

A hike of more than two miles leads to the ravine's bowl. Skiers then ascend the steep walls of the ravine to access their chosen run.

The challenge makes skiing in Tuckerman Ravine a rite of spring. It's just as popular — if not more so — among spectators who make the climb and settle in the bowl to watch skiers and snowboarders test their skills.

Changing weather translates into changing conditions in the ravine, and visitors should be sure to check trail conditions and avalanche advisories before heading out.

In addition to tuckerman.org, helpful Web links offering tips on preparing for the Tuckerman Ravine experience can be found by searching on “Tuckerman” at outdoors.org.


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


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