Monday, April 14, 2008


After loading out the last of the Jackson items on Sunday, George, Jim and I went to the North Hall Trail to check out some off-trail possibilities I had scanned on a skate foray around the Hall-Ellis loop several weeks ago.

In spite of the huge amount of snow that fell this winter, the spring weather has chewed down a bunch of it, even in the lower reaches of Pinkham Notch. We haven't had too many outright balmy days yet, but it's been above freezing and the sun is up about 13 hours now.

We climbed at a very comfortable pace. Jim was the youngest of our group, but had no trouble going at a conversational speed.

We could guess that the snow would be heavy and slow. On the trail that had been groomed all winter only the top layer was soft. But when I launched a prospecting arc toward the edge of one of the glades, my skis sank in and stopped.

The big clear cut I'd had my eye on had thawed completely bare. Where snow remained on its lower apron, slash and stumps underneath it had created pockets that melted out to treacherous pit traps. We looked over toward another, north-facing cut, partially obscured by the snow squalls that blew through, but decided not to bushwhack over. It would probably not offer really good enough skiing in those conditions to be worth the effort. We could tell from the snowpack we'd tramped through that it would be hard for a good skier to set turns, and nearly impossible for a novice. George has a mix of alpine and groomed cross-country experience, but had never gone out on ungroomed snow with free-heel gear. We made our way back to the trail to head down to the lower glades. They would be as good as anything that day, and they were on our route back to the car.

Hall Trail's steeper sections offered some leisurely turning. I haven't been getting that much turn practice lately, because I spend so much time at the touring center. On days off I get sucked into domestic necessities, so I don't even get up to the playground behind my house that much.

Although we both agreed it would probably be more work than pleasure, Jim and I had to leap into the glade when we got there. I launched first. In the heavy snow I managed a couple of turns before I planted a rear ski diverging slightly and got pried open instantly. That was good for half a somersault. Then I had to try to push myself up out of the slush.

Jim proceeded to rip about ten turns and stop about a third of the way down this swath. The total drop was probably little more than 50 yards. I managed to take one more digger before I got my stance together to slide into a parking space next to him. George waved off and stuck to the trail.

As Jim and I traversed over to rejoin the trail, I enjoyed the feeling of thawing beads of slush oozing out of my ear holes.

Back on the trail we continued our leisurely glide back to the parking lot.

With wider, single-cambered skis the turning would have gone better, but the touring would have been a plod with skins instead of scales. It was a nice little hike.

From here on out, the snow gets softer and softer, thawing its way up to the higher ravines. Anything exposed to too much sun withers while you watch. So we pick up other equipment to enjoy the opportunities just coming into season. Anyone who happens to live near trails that were packed solidly will be able to use their decomposing surface for a while longer. But the wild snow in the woods no longer invites much exploration.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

They say you shouldn't ski alone

A lot of us ski alone. If the choice is skiing alone or not skiing, guess what is going to happen. But sometimes you get a reminder that the warning has merit.

Today, in blustery winds, Peter the Great was hit in the face by a falling tree. It knocked off his glasses, broke his nose, lacerated his face and knocked him to the ground so quickly he actually said he didn't know what hit him.

This did not stop him from skiing the seven or eight kilometers back to the lodge. He looked kind of rough, but was as cheery as ever.

The tree was about six or eight inches in diameter, according to his pantomimed gesture. He said it landed in the crook of his outstretched arm and on his chest after it scraped down his face.

He had just peeled himself up from the bloody snow when another skier came along. This man happened to be a doctor, who helped Peter fashion a compress to control the bleeding and then accompanied him back to the lodge.

Back at the lodge he got a better patch job from the doctor, using the ski patrol's first aid kit, before he headed out to get a suture or two. Maybe he'll get his nose taped, like tough guys in the movies.

If it had hit the top or back of his head we wouldn't be joking around like this. But we'll all be out there alone again within 12 hours. If I hadn't had a zoning board meeting tonight, I would have skied out to his bloodstain and drawn a chalk body outline for a joke when the groomer comes by.

Stupid meeting.