Uphill climb under night sky

  • All levels of skiers participate in the Friday Night Uphill Series at Black Mountain in Jackson. Andrew Drummond / Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 1/30/2020 10:35:44 PM

It was easy to spot Stacie Flanagan in the Black Mountain base lodge on a recent Friday night. There were plenty of skiers getting ready to head out into the night to ski up the mountain. But Flanagan was the only one bouncing a baby toddler on her lap; her best friend’s son.

Flanagan, an emergency room nurse from Alton, had given birth herself at the end of August.

“We’re just a group of friends getting in shape together and skiing down together,” she said.

Flanagan and her friends were taking part in the Friday Night Uphill Series. 

The 10-week series at independently-owned Black Mountain in Jackson is in its third season. Beginning in December, it is scheduled to run until March 13. The event is a nice fit for Black, an old-school ski area with nary a high-speed lift. Uphill skiing also has a sense of nostalgia as early pioneering skiers made the trek up the trails willingly under their own power.

Flanagan, 35, has been doing the series since its inception. Started by Andrew Drummond, owner of the alpine touring shop Ski The Whites (skithewhites.com) at Black, she was largely a downhill skier before she and her husband, also an outdoor enthusiast, decided to head uphill. She’s been doing that for about four years now.

She enjoys it so much that she purchased an uphill ski pass at Black and gets a sense of security from the series.

“It is one of the few places that is safe,” she said. “There are people watching you. It’s unique. It’s kind of magical.”

Watching the skiers is something else as well. Long, arching beams of white emirate from the lamps. Fog-like mists come out from the mouths as they begin their labor. At times they look like they’re streaking as they spread out. But as they go up on the hill, they spread out, sometimes taking on the appearance of, with imagination, a Christmas tree. It is other-worldly according to some. 

Skiers follow the lit circuit on skis with free-heel bindings and use flexible alpine touring boots and poles. They use climbing skins on the way up for grip. At the top, off come the skins, lock the bindings and head downhill.

In their mid-50s, Kevin and Jeanne Wholey of Bartlett enjoy the way uphilling combines two things they love—cross-country and alpine skiing. Plus there’s the cardio benefit. 

They were curious, approached Drummond and his staff to learn about the equipment and now are regulars in their first year. 

“All this is magnified by this being a lit mountain,” says Kevin. “Using headlamps adds an element of adventure. I compete with my wife but we have fun.”

He said it’s welcoming, with no pressure.

“We’re trying to get our friends to come,” he said. 

There are newbies and experts from all walks of life, like carpenters on both sides of Pinkham Notch in Jeremiah Hawkins, 37, of Gorham and Tristan Williams, 33, of Tamworth, both avid all-around skiers. 

Hawkins says he likes the good competition and that the event is social. 

“This is a good builder for the ski community,” he said. “And when I say the ski community I mean people from New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts. You get beginners, regular people and some really fast dudes.”

Hawkins, who’s been skiing since age 3, says he really looks forward to it.

“Uphill skiing is really fun,” he said. “It’s fun to race once a week and push yourself really hard. There are a couple of guys I usually battle with.”

For Williams, it’s about being social. 

“For me, it’s mostly about skiing with other people,” he said. “During the week, I ski by myself a lot. This is a way to ski together.”

A cool part about the event is at the top. 

“At the top the ski patrol shack is open,” he said. “You can hang out up there. Not everyone races. Some people just tour around and wait for the racers to come through and then go down. It’s like a gathering spot.”

The series is also a launching point into another part of the skiing culture, a chance to try something different for those who normally alpine or cross-country ski. 

It’s also a chance to gaze.

“It is really cool,’ said Flanagan. “Skiing under the stars is wonderful.”

And a way to get in shape. 


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