He’s Skied New Hampshire’s 48; He’s Pick Up Insightful Tips About The Backcountry.

Editor Note: Ben White skied the 48 4000 feet plus mountains in New Hampshire in a single year as a teenager. We thought the readers of SeniorsSkiing.com would benefit from some of his hard core lessons.

Ben White currently runs White Cloud Adventures in Utah.

As a young whipper-snapper, I had the incredible privilege and opportunity to ski each one of the New Hampshire 48 in a single ski season before I graduated high school. Like any seventeen year old, I had plenty of my own ideas about how the world worked and how to ski in the backcountry, only to learn the hard way that there were better options.

Bring A Really Good Headlamp

Standing in a light drizzle on top of Bondcliff with Alan and Cathy getting ready to ski and hike out nine miles to Lincoln Woods while the sun set was a great learning moment. Instead of complaining about the rain, I knew that I simply had to do the next thing: Toss on a layer to stay dry and get a head lamp out. Being in high school, I brought along whatever means of light I had. In this case, a mountain biking head lamp my aunt gave me for my birthday a year prior. It was a small, lightweight bulb and housing with a long power cord to a robust battery back, and the special clip to attach it to a helmet that was left at home. Holding the light steady in one hand would make using ski poles and blocking branches funny. So, since it would not attach to my helmet, I held light with my teeth the entire time. After skating out the last four miles of the Lincoln Woods trail, I was soaked, tired, and had a really sore jaw. I have since considered it critical to have a well-functioning headlamp with me at all times when skiing in the backcountry, even for an hour at lunch.

It Is Not All Powder

The main motivation to skiing in the backcountry were visions of untouched powder for miles. Without people or groomers, the snow would have to be untouched, except by animals, and therefore soft everywhere. I can distinctly remember that 46 out of The 48 were not powder skiing. Part of the joy of skiing in the backcountry has been the challenge of putting all of the puzzle pieces together, especially the weather and snow conditions forecasting. My goal was to ski The 48, though, not ski powder every day. When Alan and I skied Middle and North Tripyramid, in the White Mountains, we made turns, but they were on some of the most bulletproof snow I can ever remember skiing. Count on it.

Skiing In The Backcountry Is A Team Sport, Especially In New England

The idea that the backcountry is a place to find solace and fresh tracks away from people is in the right direction, but not on the right track. The backcountry is largely free of unknown skiers clogging up lift lines and skiing recklessly, but learning to ski in the backcountry is very much a team sport. At any point in time, team members can contribute to the success of the group as a whole. This teamwork starts with pre-trip planning, encompasses breaking trail and pulling water bottles out of backpacks, and ends with a short discussion about how the day went when the ski boots are off at the car. Everybody brings a different perspective to the table, and somebody just starting to venture out into the backcountry can ask some very thought-provoking questions of a more seasoned backcountry skier. It pays to listen.

Layering: Every Body is Different

Winter is cold and the threat of frost-bite and hypothermia is very real. Just like any other day of skiing, I would put on a certain amount of fleece before I buckled my boots, then head off for some smiles. Hiking uphill with skis on generates a lot more heat than taking a chairlift and, in turn, sweat. After figuring out that I was so slow moving due to heat management problems, a single 39 year old woman I met on the trail, who was way out of my league, told me that I needed to wear less clothing. After some trial and error, I have found that nothing but a polyester t-shirt, shorts, and shell ski pants is all that I ever want to wear while on the skin track. My friends all wear something else, because they run at different temperatures than I do. Gloves are important to layer as well.

There are more lessons, too. Stay tuned for advice and tips in coming months.

If you have a question about getting started in backcountry skiing or if you want to share your experience, just comment in the box below.

One Comment

  1. Janet White says:

    Love these tips! I am slightly biased, but shared experience is everything. This is the first time I’ve heard the head lamp story!

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