The Northeast’s Best Backcountry Skiing

December 8, 2014
Brian Mohr/EmberPhotoA skier atop New Hampshire’s Mount Cardigan.

From powdery valley trails to snowfields overlooking the Atlantic, the Northeast has plenty of stunning— and varied—backcountry skiing options. Some were among the first routes skied in the region, cut by avid volunteers decades ago. Others are new finds, established within the last decade. The eight routes profiled here are just the beginning; for a much deeper look into the options in this region, check out AMC’s Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast, by expert David Goodman.

Sargent Mountain  |  Acadia National Park, Maine
Ski in high snowfields and take in the ocean views at Sargent Mountain in Acadia National Park. From the Parkman Mountain parking lot, take the Around Mountain Carriage Road right and follow it to the Sargent Northwest Trail, which can be ascended without climbing skins, and turn right. The summit, the second highest on Mount Desert Island at 1,379 feet, is relatively flat and offers views of Somes Sound, the Cranberry Isles, and the western mountains. The northwest side of the mountain has a series of snowfields, and, with enough snowfall, you can ski runs of several hundred feet.
Distance: 5.6 miles round-trip
Info: Discover Acadia National Park, 3rd ed. (AMC Books); AMC Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast (AMC Books)

Maine Woods  |  Piscataquis County, Maine
Maine With more than 80 miles of groomed ski trails and two full-service lodges, AMC’s Maine Woods property offers the potential for days of backcountry exploration. Visitors can traverse the 6.5-mile route between Gorman Chairback Lodge and Little Lyford Lodge while gear is shuttled ahead, complete a circuit of Long Pond, trace the shores of the West Branch of the Pleasant River, or trek into dramatic Gulf Hagas. Unplowed roads even offer the chance to break off the beaten track and into the powder. Intermediate backcountry skiing abilities are a must here—it’s a 6.2-mile ski from the parking area to Little Lyford and 7 miles to Gorman Chairback.
Distance: 80-plus miles of groomed trails
Info: AMC Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast (AMC Books); Maine Lodges

Gulf of Slides  |  Pinkham Notch, N.H.
Though Tuckerman Ravine is renowned for its late-season snow, the nearby Gulf of Slides offers much of the same without the crowds. The 2.5-mile Gulf of Slides Trail climbs up from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center to a series of gullies and snowfields located beneath the Davis Path, just south of Tucks. Once at the base of Central Gully, experienced skiers can climb the steep wall (up to a 40 percent grade) to catch the panoramic vista—and enjoy the ride back down. As its name suggests, Gulf of Slides is avalanche terrain; it’s best explored in spring, and visitors should carry appropriate safety gear. An emergency rescue cache is located at the base of Central Gully.
Distance: 5 miles round-trip
Info: AMC Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast (AMC Books)

Mount Cardigan  |  Orange, N.H.
Mount Cardigan has some of the most historic ski trails in New England. AMC purchased 600 acres east of the mountain in 1934; AMC volunteers cut the Duke’s Trail on nearby Firescrew Mountain while the Civilian Conservation Corps built the Alexandria Trail. Beginning from Cardigan Lodge, follow the Holt-Clark and Clark trails west to the summit. Return on the Alexandria Trail and then take the mile-long Kimball Trail back to Cardigan Lodge.
Distance: 5 miles round-trip
InfoAMC Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast (AMC Books); Mount Cardigan lodging

Mount Monadnock  |  Jaffrey, N.H.
Though best known as one of the most popular hiking destinations in New England, Mount Monadnock also offers skiing for all ability levels. Beginners can enjoy a network of ungroomed trails around Monadnock’s base and Gilson Pond (4 miles round-trip). When the snow is deep, experts can climb the mountain via the White Dot Trail and Old Ski Trail, then test themselves on a narrow descent via the Red Spot, Cascade Link, and Harling trails (the only route on which downhill skiing is allowed). A free ski map is available on the N.H. State Parks website.
Distance: Up to 8 miles
Info: AMC Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast (AMC Books); NH State Parks

Breadloaf Wilderness  |  Granville, Vt.
With open hardwood glades, favorable snow conditions, and access to the Long Trail and Green Mountain National Forest roads and trails, the Breadloaf Wilderness is Vermont backcountry at its finest. Many of the access roads are unplowed and can be used for skiing. Take Forest Road 55 off Vermont Route 100 to the Clark Trail. Follow Clark Brook into the Wilderness Area to connect with the Long Trail. Take in sights of Breadloaf Mountain, one of the 100 tallest peaks in New England at 3,835 feet.
Distance: 6 miles out-and-back
Info: Green Mountain National Forest

Thunderbolt Ski Trail  |  Adams, Mass.
If you’re looking for a ski trail that lives up to its name, try the Thunderbolt. This steep and difficult trail on Mount Greylock (3,100 ft.) was one of the most famous ski courses of the 1930s and 1940s. It covers a lot of elevation in a short distance, descending from the summit to Thiel Road. The steepest drop is “Big Bend,” high on the mountain, while “Big Schuss,” is 200 yards long and over 60 feet wide; it used to have a rope tow. For an intermediate run, the Bellows Pipe Trail is parallel to the Thunderbolt. The best access is the Bellows South trailhead on Gould Road.
Distance: 4 miles round-trip
Info: AMC Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast (AMC Books); Thunderbolt Ski Run

Jackrabbit Trail  |  Lake Placid, N.Y.
The 35-mile Jackrabbit Trail cuts through the Adirondack Mountains. The trail varies from groomed to backcountry powder, and even passes directly through several towns. The 5.5 miles between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake are, according to Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast author David Goodman, one of the prime backcountry segments on the trail. Follow the red plastic blazes from the trailhead near the Whiteface Inn in Lake Placid. The trail rises gradually for a couple of miles before beginning an extended descent. A 20-minute detour up Haystack Mountain (2,876 ft.) rewards skiers with great views of the Adirondacks.
Distance: 5.5 miles one-way
Info: AMC Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast (AMC Books); Jackrabbit Ski Trail

For hundreds of additional trip ideas throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, visit the Get Out archives.

CONTRIBUTORS: David Goodman, Brian Mohr, Jerry and Marcy Monkman

Corrections: The Sargent Mountain and Thunderbolt Ski Trail descriptions have been updated from the print edition of the magazine.

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