Tim Jones: March weather can be unpredictable, but great ski runs still await

  • The White Mountain Backcountry Ski Festival is March 13-15 this year. Don't miss it! Tim Jones

  • When the snow is deep, the woods become a skier’s playground, as demonstrated in this photo of a recent backcountry excursion. Tim Jones

  • Justin Jones pauses to savor the view north to Mount Washington from Hypnosis Glade in Madison, N.H. Tim Jones

  • Snow at least two feet deep is what skiers wish for in March. Tim Jones

Active Outdoors
Published: 3/5/2020 11:12:42 PM
Modified: 3/5/2020 11:12:31 PM

Imagine you had looked forward for months and months to an August getaway in the sun with some serious beach time involved. Weather had been perfect up to the moment you arrived. Then it started snowing. I’ll bet you’d be more than a little grumpy about it.

That’s exactly how it feels to winter lovers when it rains in February or March in ski country.

A lot of people – myself among them – look forward to late February and early March for the best snow of the year. But, as I write this, I’m looking out my office window in the lower reaches of the Mount Washington Valley, at precipitation that isn’t quite rain but certainly isn’t snow. In the last hour, it’s been snow, rain, and absolutely everything in between. A “wintry mix” is what the forecasters call it. What skiers call it is unprintable.

It’s been snowing higher up in the hills – heavy, wet snow that will compress and provide a super base in the backcountry and will groom out beautifully on the ski slopes. But the slopes were already well covered and we already had 2 feet or more of settled snow on the ground. We didn’t need more base but we’ll take what we can get. Any kind of snow is better than rain.

What we really wanted was powder – like the foot of fluff we got two weeks or so ago and the two six-inch snowfalls we enjoyed before that. Thanks to that snowdump, the last half of Prezweek and the first few days of this week provided unbelievably good snow conditions. Good memories help you get through days like this.

In recent days, I’ve enjoyed excellent resort skiing at both Bretton Woods and Cranmore in New Hampshire and Sunday River in Maine. The day we were at Bretton Woods, we enjoyed perfect midwinter conditions – firm, fast, perfectly groomed corduroy with just a dusting of new snow on top. At Cranmore, I’ve gotten in a couple of powder days with soft packed powder beneath. And at Sunday River, the snow was perfectly groomed soft corduroy in the mornings and warmed to soft spring conditions later in the day. Perfect! When the season is done, I’m positive a couple of these will rank among my Top 10 resort days of this season.

I’ve also enjoyed two wonderful backcountry excursions. Backcountry skiing – where you climb up the hill under your own power before skiing down – is a whole different experience. You trade quantity for quality and revel in making turns on natural snow that’s never seen a groomer,

On one of my excursions included catching the fabled Sherburne Ski Trail in perfect condition. It had snowed a foot or more the day before, then the bottom had slowly fallen out of the thermometer. It was in the low single digits with a sharp wind when my friend Tom and I left Pinkham Notch. The wind helped keep us cool as we skinned up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail.

It was three below up at Hermit Lake – cold enough with the wind to nip at our fingers as we stripped the skins off our skis and stowed them in our backpacks, switched our boots and bindings from climbing to downhill mode, and put on our helmets. Since it had been more than 30 hours since the snow fell, we knew we weren’t going to find any untracked powder on the trail. We had planned on playing in the woods a bit, but the cold and the fact that we are both old and it had taken us too long to skin up put a stop to that notion.

So we pushed off down the Sherburne Ski Trail and found incredibly good skiing. There was still powder on the edges of the trail in the more gradual sections. On the steeper drops, we found knee-high powder bumps. Only twice on the descent did we find small patches of windblown hardpack. Everything else was soft. Twenty minutes after we left Hermit Lake, we were back at Pinkham Notch, grinning ear-to ear.

A couple of much warmer days later, my son Justin and I set out to explore Hypnosis Glades in Madison, New Hampshire, one of the newer offerings of the Granite Backcountry Alliance. The website (granitebackcountryalliance.org/hypnosis-glade) bills this as the perfect introduction to backcountry skiing, but Justin and I, both experienced backcountry ski tourers, found it perfect for a leisurely afternoon run. It took us about 20 minutes to skin up the 400 vertical feet and less than 10 minutes to ski down on snow that had frozen and melted into something very like soft spring corn snow.

One of the reasons I’m grumpy about today’s weather is that it may put this glade off limits until we get another snowstorm.

And we should get several more good snowstorms. March is one of the snowiest months, after all. With a couple of days to go, it’s still not clear whether it is going to come in like a lion or a lamb. Right now, it’s looking more lamb-ish, but I’m not willing to place bets on it. I would be very surprised if we didn’t get at least one blizzard something in March and that’s going to make spring-wishers grumpy and snow lovers shout for joy.

Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

(Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email timjones603@gmail.com.)

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