While a few ski areas out West are continuing to spin lifts, here on the East Coast people have put their ski gear away since most resorts closed for the season in April. But for those of us who aren't quite ready to stow the skis, the spring peripheral season is synonymous with one place: Mount Washington.
Much has been said about New Hampshire's famous peak, noted for its stormy and oft-changing weather. Sitting higher than any mountain in the northeastern U.S., at 6,288 feet, it's been anthologized as one of best places for spring skiing, specifically on an amphitheater on its southeast face known as Tuckerman Ravine.
When I was a kid, I looked at iconic photographs of Tuckerman Ravine, including a black and white shot pinned in a stairwell in a ski shop of the country's first giant slalom race. Two slide paths appeared in the background of the photo as an ominous reminder of the dangers in the Ravine. I finally had the chance to ski it for myself in May.
Friends and I gathered on a midweek morning at the Appalachian Mountain Club lodge in Pinkham Notch. The weather forecast called for partly cloudy and we were greeted in the parking lot with light rain and fog. Undeterred, we made our way to the trailhead to begin the steep, 2.4-mile hike that runs along the Ellis and Cutler rivers, swollen with snowmelt.
An hour and 45 minutes later, our group arrived at HoJo's, the AMC hut at Hermit Lake, where a thick wall of clouds blocked the famous view of the Ravine. The hike continued for another three-quarters of a mile through thinning pine and rocks up the final incline. Once in the Ravine, we saw that the right side showed a couple of crevasses, so we hiked up what's known as the Left Gully.
There are about 10 different routes to ski on Tuckerman. In the Left Gully, we found corn snow, moguls the size of a VW Bug and a view of the notch and Wildcat resort below. As the winds buffeted off the cliff walls, we grabbed some turns and photos before being deposited back at the floor.
We headed down to HoJo's for a run at Hillman's Highway with the sun finally making an appearance for our long vertical back down, linking turns like pendulums the entire length of Hillman's. We finished with a run down the Sherburne Ski Trail, dodging intermittent patches of green grass before finally losing the snow line at about 3,000 feet. A quick descent down the remainder of the Tuckerman Ravine trail on foot found us back at our cars, tired, a bit dirty, but grinning from ear to ear.