While our original plan was to climb a lot of steep ice this year, the weather would apparently prefer that we enjoy some time on skis.  With regular storms and sub-freezing temps in between to keep the powder dumps fresh, we’ve had a chance to enjoy a variety of local skiing options.  A storm on Christmas Day, coupled with the rest of the world’s preoccupation with opening presents, left us Attitash more or less to ourselves in falling powder, glad again that we had made the commitment to some heavier ski setups.  Lift-served skiing doesn’t let you earn your turns, but it sure is a great way to practice skills, especially when your heel is attached to nothing!   

At Pineland Farms , we enjoyed perfectly groomed trails rolling over the scenic historic campus.  Those old psychiatric facilities  always make me wonder what dark things used to happen there back in the day, and perhaps it’s serving a better purpose now with its new educational and recreational mission.   Apparently you can go fast there, as we saw some lean and hungry folks skated past us as the sun set, and in the prep room I saw someone choosing the perfect color from literally a suitcase full of waxes.  The market cafe next door offered a pleasant place to grab delicious coffee and snacks and groceries for dinner afterwards.

We had an enounter with authentic New England powder (read, packed snow–read, concrete) a few days later at Attitash after the holiday crowd had pushed all the powder off, but although we cut the day a little short after wrangling the ice, it was still great practice coping with variable conditions and committing to your turns.  A subsequent visit after another powder dump gave us a chance to explore the tree skiing at Bear Peak, which we’ll be back for more of after, you guessed it, the next storm!

In our cherry-picking quest for whatever’s in, we turned next to Bear Notch Ski Touring Center in Bartlett, where we found more beautifully groomed trails in the White Mountain National Forest . We got the skinny on where we could go to avoid the wind, and stuck to peaceful rolling trails in the woods while the wind howled along the floor of the valley.  As at Pinelands, the trails at Bear Notch were groomed for traditional and skate skiing, although the feel at Bear Notch was as forested and boreal as the feel at Pinelands was New England picture-postcard.

Our most recent adventure was to ski the Sherbie, which is short for “Sherbun,” which is how people up this way pronounce “Shernburne,” as in, the Sherburne Ski Trail on Mount Washington.  I really did have to check the spelling after a conversation with one local in order to make sure we were talking about the same trail.  In any case, we braved some serious cold to make the time-honored pilgrimage from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the Hermit Lake Shelter and then down the Sherbie.  All our practice with variable conditions came into play as we traversed back and forth across ice, powder, and crust in various depths.  We earned those turns, and it was a memorable moment when the Tuckerman Ravine suddenly popped into view in its breathtaking foreshortening.

Our plans for our next adventure are to ski the Wildcat Valley Ski Trail from the top of Wildcat Mountain down to Jackson.  We’re waiting for the right conditions again, as this longer trip seems like a good route for a quick run rather than a protracted slog through anything less than ideal.  We are grateful that we finally have time to wait until conditions are good and then pounce, rather than having a schedule force us into taking what we get.  Looking forward to dinner and drinks at the Wildcat Inn and Tavern  at the end, although it remains to be seen if we will have the moral courage to earn them fully by skinning up to the top of Wildcat for the start, rather than riding the lift!        

Special props to the good folks at Andes Sports  for their help with boots for Alex and telemark rentals for our visiting friend Slim.  Ask for Steve and he’ll set you up with gear for alpine/resort skiing or telemark and alpine touring adventures in the backcountry.  Also much gratitude to Adam at Peter Limmer and Sons bootmakers  in Intervale, who used their decades of experience making custom hiking boots to sew a bombproof patch on my vintage La Sportiva Eiger boots.  This famous artisan operation chanced happily to be based only a few miles from our base of operations in North Conway, and they didn’t bat at eye at my boot’s need for a serious structural repair.  I learned in the process that they’ve also recently branched out into proper climbing shoe repair.  In any case, it was another friendly and helpful encounter with local merchants and craftspeople.  If you’re looking for more information about local and regional backcountry ski tours, this well-written guidebook has been very helpful to us Best Backcountry Skiing Northeast Classic.

If you’re wondering how van-life is going during this famously chilly winter, I am happy to report that we have been fine so far, because we’ve had shore power from our friends at the White Mountain Hostel  to drive our little electric space heater.  Without electricity, we’d be hosed, as we don’t  yet have an independent heating system, but the spray-foam insulation job has meant the main cabin stays warm down into the teens, and cool but not unbearable down to zero.  Ten-pound Big Agnes car-camping sleeping bags have guaranteed that everything is fine once you just get into bed, even down into the minus-teen temperatures we saw last weekend.