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N.H. nonprofit seeks to boost access and education for backcountry skiing in the White Mountains

  • Tyler Ray skis the White Mountains in April 2016. Courtesy of Granite Backcountry Alliance

  • Tyler Ray, president of the Granite Backcountry Alliance, skis Dodge's Drop on the shoulder of Mount Washington in April 2016. Courtesy of Granite Backcountry Alliance

  • Tyler Ray, president of the Granite Backcountry Alliance, hikes in the White Mountains. Courtesy of Granite Backcountry Alliance



Monitor staff
Monday, November 07, 2016

Responding to the booming popularity of backcountry skiing, a nonprofit formed this fall to expand opportunities in the White Mountains and ensure new entrants to the sport can get a safe start.

The Granite Backcountry Alliance hopes to persuade officials in the White Mountain National Forest to permit cutting new trails – including some for beginners – in a bureaucratic stretch of woods.

“The issue we have here in the White Mountains is the introduction to backcountry skiing is usually starting down a 50-degree face off Tuckerman Ravine,” said Granite Backcountry Alliance President Tyler Ray, “which inevitably results in ragdolling over the lip.”

That’s been part of the tradition of backcountry skiing in the Whites, Ray said, but he imagines that with smartly drawn new permissions, skiiers could be safer and less impactful on the landscape.

In particular, Ray said, a 2005 management plan drawn up for the White Mountain National Forest doesn’t expressly allow cutting new trails for the purpose of backcountry skiing, so there have been no legal trails added in the past decade.

That’s because backcountry skiiers had no voice in the creation of that plan, he said. As far as he’s concerned, it was a simple oversight, but one that he expects will lead to negative consequences as backcountry skiing becomes a mainstream sport and the number of visitors balloons.

“There’s been a fair amount of illegal cutting in the forest, and that has drawn the ire of the National Forest, naturally. That’s one thing we’re looking to mitigate,” he said.

Ray, a North Conway-based attorney who’s been backcountry skiing for 10 years, said he understood that skiiers like him had no unified voice. He knew enough people in the industry that he decided he’d try to change that, forming Granite Backcountry Alliance in September and partnering with Winter Wildlands Alliance, a nation non-profit with similar goals.

He said both pieces of his effort – education and access – are equally important.

With the availability of information and equipment online, new backcountry skiiers are easily empowered to get started, which is good but can also be dangerous, Ray said.

Historically, he said, backcountry skiiers relied on a mentor to show them the ropes.

“It’s somewhat gone by the wayside as a result of social media and the improvement of hard goods,” Ray said, adding that the “secret spots” are all listed online. “There’s no process of apprenticeship, let’s say, anymore.”

Just last weekend, two out-of-state skiiers were rescued from a trail off Mount Washington after being overtaken by darkness. Ray said based on what he’s heard, they didn’t sound well prepared.

“It’s an unfortunate accident, but it’s an absolutely perfect example,” he said. “Skiing Ammonoosuc Ravine in October is not a place I’d be.”

He said he’s hoping to partner with businesses, resorts and “basically everyone” to help foster a culture of educated skiiers who understand the risks and the etiquette of the sport.

And on the land management side, he’s also looking to expand opportunities on private- and state-owned land, understanding that it could take years to accomplish his goals on the federally owned forest. But “the prize is the White Mountain National Forest,” he said.

Ray said his organization will hold at least two upcoming events. At 6 p.m. on Nov. 19 in North Conway at International Mountain Equipment, he’s appearing alongside the Winter Wildlands Alliance as it screens short backcountry films.

Because the Granite Backcountry Alliance will also focus on western Maine skiing, the group is also planning to appear Dec. 7 at All Speed Cyclery and Snow in Portland, Maine. Ray said he may soon announce dates in Dover and Hanover, as well.

The Granite Backcountry Alliance can be found online at facebook.com/graniteBC.

 

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at
@NickBReid.)