By Sandy Caligiore
We’re all in agreement: the winter of 2015-2016 has been one of the wackiest on record.
Chilly October. Unusually mild November and December. Winter with some snow and cold temperatures in January. Deep freezes and downpours in February. After all that confusion, no one is venturing a guess—also known as a weather forecast—for March.
This skier has seen March run in both directions, from ski area closures by St. Patrick’s Day with the mercury in the 70s, to snorkel skiing in deep powder. Does anyone remember the Ides of March blizzard in 1993? So much for reminiscing.
The reality is that March skiers and riders in the Capital Region may have to work a bit to get the good stuff. For instance, when many of us were in monsoon conditions during Presidents’ Week, Mont Tremblant in Quebec was basking in a snowstorm that approached one and a half feet. Stoneham, also in Quebec, scored an eight-inch dump at the same time. For those of us who study closely, Maine got the brunt of several storms that worked their way from the mid-Atlantic states up along the New England coast.
That means destinations like Sunday River and Sugarloaf, in the west and northwest parts of the state, respectively, are ripe for spring skiing and boarding. Sunday River grabbed five inches of snow last month, while I needed an umbrella to walk outside.
The facility was boasting 40 miles of trails. Sugarloaf picked up the same amount and had 45 miles available. And let’s not forget their powerful snowmaking systems. So the moral of the story tells all of us that regardless of what we see outside our front doors, it’s imperative to watch the weather patterns, follow the storms and log on to be the most informed snow sports enthusiast you can be. There’s certainly no shortage of information.
And here’s the inside scoop: The National Weather Service says winter will end colder than it started.
A rite of spring for the hard cores
Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire is described by Wikipedia as a glacial cirque on the southeast slope of Mount Washington. But for the most avid in our sports, it’s much more than that.
Tuckerman Ravine is the mecca of spring and summer skiing and boarding in the East. No lifts. No Bogner suits. No furry collars. No valet service from the stately Mount Washington Hotel. Dale of Norway might be the guy climbing the Tuckerman wall next to you. Tuckerman Ravine, in a stadium setting, is skiing and riding at its most extreme; for the unknowing, it’s most dangerous; and for the accomplished, it’s most exhilarating.
However, it does present options as there is a benefit to having no lifts—you must hike to your destination elevation, but that becomes your choice. Understanding that higher means steeper, there’s no rule that says you must tackle the entire ravine. Hike up as far as you like, create a shelf to secure your gear and jump in with as much risk as you’d like.
On average, Tuckerman Ravine will see 55 feet of snow. That’s no surprise considering its base elevation in excess of 4,400 feet. Snow totals can create avalanche dangers into March. In fact, such an occurrence took place in mid-January, triggered by two climbers. Three unknowing skiers were trapped, but miraculously no one was injured seriously. An avalanche safety class was taking place nearby, ironically, with the students pressed into action to assist with the rescue.
In a snow sparse winter such is this, Mount Washington’s notorious winds are actually helpful in scouring the mountaintop and dropping that powder into the ravine.
A typical spring weekend will find several thousand Tuckerman worshippers making the pilgrimage. The combination of bountiful spring snow and high sun can be nirvana for those interested in such an intense retreat.
Now that you’ve decided that a trip to Tuckerman’s Ravine will complete your career, you’ll need lodging. Members of the Appalachian Mountain Club can secure accommodations at the nearby Joe Dodge Lodge for $49 per member ($59 for non-members) per night. A high-powered breakfast is included. You’ll even get a 10 percent discount off “Tucks” memorabilia.
The March issue brings our ski column to a close for the season. I hope these monthly missives provide helpful information as you decide where to go and what to do in snow country. Next season marks less than two years to the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. We’ll start looking toward those Games and the American skiers and riders who could bring gold, silver and bronze to our country. Until we reconvene in November, may every turn be a smooth turn.