Finding Mt Ascutney

I was up in Vermont for the Martin Luther King weekend and it was turning out to be an epic weekend to be up north. Saturday had been a skimo race. Then overnight there had been about a foot of snow in some places of some fairly wet and heavy powder. The first day post snow dump turned into a fairly heavy day of moguls with a touch of powder up at Killington. As the day wore on the it slowly became mission impossible to find some clean untouched pow. A lot of the area had been tracked out by the time we got to the mountain.

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I had Monday off for Martin Luther King day. After asking around as to where to go and looking at the various options I decided on checking out a place called Mt Ascutney. That morning I was not feeling my freshest the after an evening fuelled by chicken wings and beer. This is not my normal go to post ski day food. Due to the restaurant we being overwhelmed (we think because of the lingering bad weather) we ended up eating whatever was on offer which turned out to be some guests food who had left due to an inexplicably long wait. Slowly but surely I dug my car out with snow pilled high up the wheels, over the roof and it was bitterly cold. I hadn’t managed to get into the car or seen a thermometer to know how cold it was. I could feel the cold stinging my face particularly when the wind blew, whipping up the snow in great swirls. Even with some thick gloves on my hands were chilling pretty quickly when I paused between a few shovel loads. It brought back memories of decamping up in the Arctic.

One of the buses carting skiers up to the mountain pulled up and informed me Killington was delaying opening due to the high winds and low temperatures. All skiers and boarders apparently would need full facial cover as it was getting down to -40F (-40C) with windchill on top. Given the delay I was pretty happy to be going and checking out a new ski area.

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Mt Ascutney is an old ski resort that shut down in 2010 after running for 80 years. Since then most of the infrastructure that supports a ski mountain from the lifts to the buildings have been stripped away. The woodland has begun to regenerate the once stripped slopes as it slowly returns to it more wild state. That was until it was recognised as a great spot for some back country skiing. With the trees already cleared for the most part it  just needed the relatively recent growth to be slightly more controlled. Since then a whole bunch of volunteers have been banding together to help maintain the trails during the summer which also helps make it a perfect playground for hikers, runners and mountain bikers. As the snow begins to fall and the trails fill up with snow its become a little back country haven. Since the early days where it was just a bunch of cleared trails there is now a seriously impressive warming hut at the base. Which given the temperatures  had risen a bit and were in the range of -10F to -15F (-23C to -26C) before wind chill made for a fantastic starting point before heading up the mountain. Check them out on the link below:

I didn’t realise there was a warming hut prior to arriving as I got my skins on outside my car in the freezing temperatures whilst they flapped around sticking to anything apart from where I wanted them to. Trudging up the slope to the base I spotted the hut at the base and meandered in. I was welcomed to a whole bunch of skiers and split boarders chatting away and getting ready for a days in the mountains. Having not been to the mountain before and looking for some good trails to ski I asked if I could tag along. It was a complete mix of guys and girls, skiers and split boarders and ages which was awesome to see. It also transpired that a bunch of them had been on a bachelor party/ stag do that had made it through various news channels local and national including BBC world service online. You can read about that below:

The first few strides up the mountain I could already feel the effects of the past few days mileage that I had put my legs through. They had certainly felt fresher. The hike up actually felt pretty warm as we were in amongst the tree line with a spot of sunshine and what ever breeze there was was on our backs helping keep us cool on the ascent. As we headed up you could still make out some of the structures used by the ski mountain before. The cut trails being the most obvious and then the occasional building or piece of metal work. A couple of the guys had skied the area when they were smaller and could remember and discussed the various cut throughs and secret ski spots that only the locals would know. As we got closer to the summit we could feel the wind picking up through the tree line. Coming out at the top we immediately felt the full force of the wind blasting our backs. Fortunately there was the remains of what I assume was the old mountain patrol building at the summit which we hid on the lee ward side of whilst removing skins and preparing to head back down. Having trekked up it was definitely time to get a whole bunch of layers on for the downward journey. 

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Heading down and we picked our way through powder snow and some small undergrowth. It was this first lap when I began to wish for some fatter skis. Occasionally my backcountry days have involved powder but the vast majority has been more like hard pack with a splash of ice and rocks. In some of the less steep terrain I was just sinking in the heavy snow and occasionally being driven to an almost an immediate stop on other sections. Which certainly added to the odd fall or ski loss. Nevertheless getting in a bunch of powder day turns was great. Having seen photos and videos from friends up north getting midweek morning powder sessions before heading to work it was great to have a shot at it myself. 

Previous days summit photo

Previous days summit photo

After warming up at the base in the hut to let some of the facial hair icicles melt it was time for lap two. The hike up went surprisingly quickly once I knew the route, meandering our way back up the mountain. Arriving at the summit and with a bit of a larger group we bundled into the open basement of the old ski patrollers building to remove our skins. The temperature had dropped a bit so we made the most we could from what remained of the building whilst the bitingly cold winds roared on. It was a touch of luxury sheltered from the elements whilst having a quick bite and getting some layers on.

For this lap we chose a different trail in search of more powder. It is safe to say the combined factor of the previous days skiing and the prior lap I could definitely feel my legs burning on the descent. I think before next season I need to spend a lot more time on the bike and doing some leg weights to get into a better ski shape but I wasn’t about to change my ski fitness over night or mid lap. Coming round the corner and hitting a slightly flatter section I suddenly ejected from one of my skis. Fortunately after a short hunt I found it buried beneath the snow. Clipping back in and I was back on my way down the mountain to join the rest of the group. It made me think about the old ski tracers we used to use years a go for powder days back in Europe with my family. A bit old school but maybe worth bringing out for the next season either that or some new fatter skis….

Reaching the end of the run my legs felt done. Back in the hut and grabbing a seat I decided it was time to hit the road. After a chat with the guys I was told about a great spot for some post ski grub down at the Brownsville Butcher & Pantry. If you are in the area I would definitely recommend making a stop with delicious food it made for the perfect pit stop. They also have a fantastic beer selection, perfect for post drive when I finally managed to get home.

Photo courtesy of the Brownsville Butcher & Pantry, Vermont

Photo courtesy of the Brownsville Butcher & Pantry, Vermont

Return to the Beast

Amazingly this was my third time doing the Berkshire east beast skimo race. I say amazingly because since near the end of my university time I have not really stayed in one place for any particular length of time to do the same race twice never mind three times. Equally when it comes to other types of racing I also love the excuse to do different races in part to see new places along the way. Skimo races I have found to be different though as the conditions each year can totally vary adding to the experience. First year I did the race one guy was racing in shorts and a t-shirt, second year we had enough snow to have a bit more of a backcountry experience and this year you can read about below.

Despite growing in popularity and the growing number of Skimo races on the east coast of the US, especially the night time series, skimo has yet caught up with the level of running races with events all over the place every weekend. The races themselves tend to be held in Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine. All of which are a decent drive from New Jersey. If you are closer to these areas then lucky you!! Apart from the physical challenge of the skimo races, the camaraderie at them is a real pull to keep coming back. You have a complete mix of guys and girls or all ages and abilities nailing it up and down the mountain. On top of this it is great winter training and there are a whole bunch of cyclists, runners, climbers and triathletes amongst, I’m sure many other sports who are getting in a solid base before the summer season. 

Skis at the ready

Skis at the ready

This year I was staying up north for a long weekend. So Friday night was spent making the dash north with many others who love the winter season. It was Martin Luther King weekend, so a long weekend for those that got it off. Our progress was slow, as our expected time of arrival o the GPS slowly ticked in the wrong direction. Following the guidance of the Skimo and backcountry touring workshop I went on and my evening preparation for a good pre-race meal was equally not going to plan. Pulling into a service station a choice of McDonald’s, pizza or quesadillas were the options. I opted for quesadillas hoping that it would be marginally healthier. I did however manage to get my pre-race hydration going well with no beer on the cards and plenty of water for the drive. By the time we got in for the evening it was a relatively quick turn around as my alarm went off in the early hours of the morning. Kicking off the day with coffee and pastries before driving to Berkshire east. Over breakfast I read through the pre-race notes on the snow conditions limiting our route to skiing and skinning up the piste. The boot packs were to be in amongst the forest, with the potential for some ice mixed in amongst the rocks and tree roots. The conditions had been relatively warm this year, despite the early and ridiculous large snowfall that kicked the season off back in November. After a relatively quick drive south, I pulled up into the carpark which the previous year had been packed as well as all white. I was welcomed to a far muddier car park. The slopes were still gleaming white and looking very inviting! 

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After over heating the previous year I finally transitioned to racing in pretty much what I would run in. Leggings, shorts and a cycling jersey. Cycling jerseys are pretty handy with the extra pockets in the back. I did however forget my water bottle and energy gels. On a sunny day this would have not been great but with overcast and cool enough conditions I thought it would just about be ok. 

The start line - photo courtesy of Mark Trahan

The start line - photo courtesy of Mark Trahan

Heading to the start line a bunch of us did a little warm up doing some very mini laps up the mountain. The count down began as racers greeted those they had not seen for a while and then we were off heading up the mountain. Very quickly the group spread out up the slope.  The initial skin up and ski down went pretty well. My first transition to boots from skiing down I don’t think could have been much slower without loosing a ski down the mountain as for some reason trying to get my boot out of my binding for one ski seemed almost impossible. After that hurdle I entered the woods. It was here I found along with all the other racers the ice that was sticking to the rocks and tree roots making for a challenging climb as each of us tried to pick our way up the mountain in a quick and relatively controlled or safe manner. Occasionally the sound of something sliding on the undergrowth followed by some expletives would sound out through the forest as another skier slipped. 

Above photo’s courtesy of Charlie Batman.

After the first lap, I knew how I felt and what the conditions were like I started to put my foot down making some steady inroads into those in front. Unfortunately a lot of these were completely annihilated by my slow transitions. Something to work on for future races. I was still lapped by the winner of the race but I felt this happened slightly later in the race than previous years which was a marginal success.

Hiking up into the woods

Hiking up into the woods

Crossing the finish line and I felt pretty good. Desperate for a drink but I felt i finished strong at least. 

This years race was by far my best performance. I didn’t get lost for a start so that was one big benefit and it was also not my first days skiing and ski touring of the season having managed to hit the slopes in December. I would definitely recommend skimo or randonne competitions. There a great way of getting into the mountains and staying fit during the winter months. 

Check out the links below if your at all tempted

East coast US & Canada

http://nerandorace.blogspot.com/

http://www.skimoeast.com/

UK

http://www.skimoscotland.co.uk/

Europe

http://www.grandecourse.com/

North America

https://ussma.org/events-list-view/


Post race recovery chocolate milk, bakery stop and an evening beer inspired by Scotland. Couldnt have asked for much more!

Catamount Trail Skimo Camp

Thank you Aaron Rice for letting me use your photos in this post. On a complete side note he is an awesome guy who climbed and skied 2.5 million feet in a year. Check him out at

https://airandrice.com/

I’m a bit behind writing up about this but back in December I found out about the Catamount Trail Association who not only organised a skimo and backcountry ski camp but also hold a number of ski touring days. There is still plenty of snow out on the trails and trips going on this season. If you are interested in ski touring, backcountry skiing or even for the summer there are options for various tours and routes to check out.

http://catamounttrail.org/

Anyway we headed up late on a friday night. It’s safe to say between work taking slightly longer than expected, as did the drive we arrived and got to sleep a bit after midnight. An ideal bedtime prior to a 5 am wake up to get over to the ski area for a morning tour up the mountain. I rose the next morning trying to be as quiet as possible before Laura my wife kindly drove me over to the venue before heading back for some much needed sleep. The excitement of the day a head certainly helped overcome the tiredness of minimal sleep. As did a spot of a sugar rush as I grabbed a cereal bar to eat on the drive over. 

After a quick briefing in the morning twilight with the other skiers and a few split boarders before we got underway in the blue light of the morning. Although it was just light enough a few people opted probably more sensibly to bring out a head torch as beams of light cut across the trail as we started to hike up. It felt great being out on the skis for the first time of the season. I had unfortunately not been able to make the most of THE snow dump that happened back in November. Many of the skiers regaled tales of some of the best snow and powder days they had seen in seasons. Despite the crisp cold conditions we all soon heated up as we picked up pace heading on up the mountain at Bolton Valley. Having never been there it was a great spot to see with some dedicated uphill trail routes to skin up. This was the warm up of the day and for me a great re-introduction into ski touring, everything kind of felt a bit familiar yet rusty. We headed up past a mountain hut that you can stay in overnight during the winter which looked like an awesome spot for another day! The trail took us further up the mountain weaving between trees and over frozen streams as the sun began to rise. It was a cloudy morning unfortunately, so there was to be no golden sunrise. Rather an overcast blue grey glow. The group slowly spread out up the mountain as micro groups found their rhythm heading up the trail. 

Starting off in the morning twilight

Starting off in the morning twilight

Reaching the top and it was time to strip the skins from the base of our skis and ski down. Helmets on, skins off and we were flying down the mountain side. Having mainly done skimo races where you don’t necessarily take in how everyone else is performing their transitions it was great to start seeing the varying levels of efficiency and proficiency at the top. As we got closer to the base we began passing a number of other ski tourers heading up for their own first lines of the day. Arriving back at base camp we came through the doors of the classroom area to a row of donuts and coffee. Despite the earlier breakfast in the car the caffeine and sugar hit was exactly what was required. This was not to be the breakfast of athletes or champions I expect but it was certainly a welcome treat. 

It was then time for class.

The day was broken down into 2 sections, the morning for some indoor teaching, Here there were a couple of options. Essentially 2 sessions were more focussed on an intro to ski touring and backcountry. Then another 2 which were orientated on performance and race perspective within a ski touring setting. A lot of the principles are completely transferrable to a backcountry setting. I opted for the two focussed on performance. 

First up was transitions. Regardless of the mountain being able to switch from boot packing, skinning or skiing in any combination as quickly as possible it’s hugely beneficial. In a race it allows you to not loose precious and non valued adding time. When you are not in a race it is safer and allows you to stay warm as you keep moving. For those that might like to take photographs, grab a quick summit bite to eat or something this time saving buys you some additional time whilst your mates are faffing to get ready. 

The biggest and most memorable point I came away with was the mantra of boots, bindings then skins. And always doing it in that order. That in itself has made my transitions more organised, deliberate and smoother. 

There were also some tricks of the trade for removing skins as quickly as possible. Below are some examples of some great transitions.

The second part of the morning was more into discussing training and nutrition as part of your training or race day program. There is loads of nutrition advice out on the web and with there being so much I often find the information contradicts one another when it comes to which is the best diet to perform on. Regardless of diets during any activity staying fuelled and hydrated is key and this came through in the presentation also. I haven’t always been that great with specific evening and pre-race nutrition regimes but when I have eaten properly the night before, drank a load of water or sports drink the morning of and then continued to fuel through the race. Unsurprisingly I have felt and performed better.  This presentation was quite fitting though as my evening meal had been grabbed on the go and wasn’t exactly nutritious while breakfast had been a cereal bar, coffee and a couple of donuts. 

If you are interested here are some resources (i am not affiliated with them nor an expert, if its something you would be interested in me doing more about nutrition then let me know!)

https://www.uphillathlete.com/high-fat-low-carb-diet-ultra-endurance-performance/

https://feedzonecookbook.com/

The afternoon was spent testing out equipment and putting into practise what we had been discussing in the morning around up hill technique and transitions. Having the day structured like this so we could hear about how to do it in the warmth and partly see some demonstrations before practising outside was fantastic for really practising good technique. I managed to borrow some Salomon s-lab skis. The comparison to my all mountain skis with a particularly heavy touring setup made a huge difference. I also learnt some key points. Such as them not having brakes to save weight. It is great but when transitioning on a slope you need to keep hold of your skis. In the event of running after them grabbing new skis by the edge is equally not a great plan. I ended up cutting a finger which was a pain but fine. It however then bled everywhere and on everything I touched. The conditions were really quite warm on the day so I had opted to not wear gloves the whole time. So if in doubt always try to wear gloves even if they are incredibly lightweight ones. And always hold onto your skis!

We finished up for the day with a raffle and some epic prizes! I cam away with some gloves and managed along the way to pick up some second hand skimo skis. Missing bindings but I will come onto them later.

All in all I would highly recommend this workshop. I will definitely be checking it out next season. You cant ask much more than to meet a load of super friendly ski touring buddies along with learning some tips and tricks.

Thanks Aaron Rice for letting me use your photos!!

Thanks Aaron Rice for letting me use your photos!!

Returning to Skimo

It had been a year since my last (and first) skimo competition. Last season I had grand ambitions of filling my weekends with skimo competitions, possibly slightly ambitious given I had only just moved over to the US. Last year’s competition fell on my very first weekend in the US. I ranked it higher priority than, you know, trivial things like finding my nearest supermarket or studying for my US driving license. 

 

A year on and with slightly more of an idea of what to expect, I made the drive north to Berkshire east to kick off the season. Despite all my best intentions of arriving fresh to the start line the snooze button at 4am was too tempting. In a bid to speed up the morning I had packed the car and prepared breakfast and coffee the night before…The evening prep took much longer than expected. When I finally jumped into bed it felt like only a couple of hours before I was up again and rubbing my eyes awake as we drove north. 

The sunrise revealed an overcast day and as we reached the mountains the wind picked up, trees swaying and snow drifts forming and flowing at the sides of the road. Despite a heavy right foot we still hadn’t made up for the heavy use of the snooze button. Wife’s are useful for times like these for any extra pair of legs to help run around sorting the pre-race entry and parking the car.

Entry complete and caffeine level replenished we all stood together on the start line - a mixture of either Lycra clad, carbon covered racers to those with the intentions of maximising the workout with heavier telemark skis or setups designed more for a short hike from a nearby lift ideally. I was one of the latter, the additional weight of my skis were clearly going to make a significant difference to my time and general efficiencies over the mountain. After a year of hunting for the best American BBQ, burning off as much energy as possible fitted the bill perfectly. This year I opted for the short course rather than the full. Mainly due to preferring not to be spend as much time boot packing (hiking uphill with skis on my back) on this occasion. 

As the starter went, the group made a dash up the hill. Everyone letting the more competent and quicker competitors to go first. Soon a line was spread out up the mountain with our skis sliding beneath us. Compared to last year the cooler conditions felt much more enjoyable. Making it to the top of the first hill and I got tempted by the longer course for a lap. The shorter course is much more about taking part aspect so doing a hybrid certainly when I wasn't in a competitive position wasn't going to affect anyone. Skins off and tucked into my already sweaty top I skied back down the mountain before applying my skins and heading back up the mountain. The next stage included a couple of boot packing sections. Hidden amongst the trees and what felt at times like I was hiking up a small frozen stream with ski boots on I slipped, slide and scrambled my way up hill. At times trying to perch on anything I could. Trees, rocks and anything poking out from the snow became a possible hand hold. I am sure there is a better techniques for this but on this occasion it wasn't coming to me. I wasn't helped by my poor attempt at strapping my skis to my bag - resulting in my skis smacking off my helmet with every other step. Good thing it wasn’t my head. A final skin up and it was time to ski all the way back to the base of the mountain for round 2 of 3.

For the next 2 rounds I went back to my original plan of not boot packing and purely skinning and skiing. As the field spread out working out who was on what loop and which course became increasingly hard. Nonetheless I mostly ended up skiing along with someone for at least part of the lap,  which provided some distraction from my now burning legs as we headed up hill again. The second lap went by without any hiccups, my transitions seemed to be improving between skinning up and getting them off as quickly as possible before skiing back down the mountain. 

The third lap and my energy levels were beginning to dip a bit. I munched down some food and finished the last few remaining drips off water in my water platypus pack. As I was eating and drinking though I knew I had missed timed it. At this stage it would not give me much of benefit compared to if I had started slightly earlier. A learning for the next one.

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A tough race, but brilliant! The thing I really enjoy with skimo is how it uses so many different muscles and the satisfaction (smug feeling) you get from self-powering your way up the mountain. It certainly makes me appreciate the ski down much more than if I just jump on a lift. 

 

Its all about earning your turns.

In terms of top tips that I have learnt so far from doing skimo

1) know the course as best you can. It can be difficult converting a not to scale map of a resort with the various sections so ideally visit the area. 

2) practise taking your skins on and off your skis as well as how to pack them away.

3) most importantly enjoy the experience and hopefully you will end up doing it a few times. 

Windiest Place on Earth

Mount Washington The chance to ski on the windiest place on earth. Why wouldn’t I turn that option down.

Not long after moving to the North east I found out about an organisation called the Appalachian mountain club who were organising a ski tour up the Cog railway on mount Washington. Situated in an incredible area known as the white mountains in New Hampshire. Mount Washington I quickly discovered once had (only relatively recently beaten into second place) the highest recorded surface wind speed outside of a tropical storm coming in at 231mph.

It isn’t the closest ski area but with the warmer than usual temperatures in the north east it was always going to be about travelling further north to get the best snow possible. Unlike the previous weekend, the temperatures had certainly begun to cool down. As I started to make the drive north the weather began to change and by the end of the night it was snowing. I was seriously looking forward to getting out the car after a fairly brutal 7 hour drive after a full days work. As much as I wanted the snow I didn’t really fancy the slowing down of the journey.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Arriving at the lodge I crashed out as soon as I hit the mattress, it didn’t feel like many hours later than the first people began to stir, all trying to get the best conditions for the day. Munching a quick breakfast all washed down with large mugs of coffee, I made my way to the meeting point. Now despite it once having the highest recorded wind speed on earth there is still a railway to the summit along with an access road. Our plan was to follow the train tracks up the mountain and once out of the tree line see what the conditions were like. Summiting was highly unlikely with forecasts of high winds and a thick layer of cloud covering it.

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I had enjoyed the ski mountaineering racing but this was a completely different experience again. The pace obviously much more sedate with the emphasis being on efficiency and trying not to sweat. Compared to my race strategy of trying to go as fast and efficiently as possible. Which was more of a brute strength and endurance exercise. And certainly less care for the amount of sweating going on. It was however a lot colder, hovering around the -5 to -15F , a balmy -20 to -26C and the  wind chill on top. Despite this it still felt quite warm as we meandered up hill surrounded by trees which looked incredible. Like frozen statues dotted all the way up the mountain side. Pausing occasionally to have a drink and admire the views behind and in front of us, despite the large bank of clouds hiding the summit. It wasn’t the blue bird day we had all hoped for but still fantastic being out on the mountain.

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Arriving at the first split point and we soon bundled up as the temperature plummeted. We had come out of the trees and the wind now had us in its sights. The rail line had clearly taken the full force of this onslaught for quite a while as its frozen structure looked like something from another planet. Not even in the arctic had I seen buildings covered in ice to this extent.

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A few of us opted to continue slightly further up the mountainside. It is safe to say we needn’t have bothered. All that proceed was some skating around on an icy surface of wind stripped mountainside. We tried to get purchase on what little friction we could get but despite this effort we hardly made it any further up for a lot more huffing and puffing. With the wind battering our faces and bodies it was only sensible to head back down. There was no chance of a summit today and the possibility of some better powder round the corner was never going to happen without some more hardware of ice axes and crampons. Even then we were not convinced there would be any great powder.

It was a quick turn around to get out the wind. I say quick but the ice and strong winds made it tough work wrapping up our ski skins to get them put away. Its like trying to roll loose duck tape up in a strong gale into a neat organised bundle.

And then the bit we had built up for, the ski down. Despite the odd patch of ice there were some great stretches of powder. The three of us who had tried to go a bit higher made the most of the descent getting in as many tight wee turns to float on the powder. In the hunt for some I managed to find a fairly lightly covered rock. Skiing over it I stopped almost instantly, trying to recover my balance from the forward momentum only to finally pop out of my bindings. Unfortunately one of the guys saw the whole thing unfold in a particularly slow and  inelegant fashion.

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We made it down to the bottom and back to the lodge for a well deserved hot shower and drink.

The next day I headed up to the in famous tuckermanns ravine. You can check out a couple of pro skiers hitting this on the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CM7YknhIKeU

It isn’t recommended generally to ski it until later in the season but whilst in the area I at least wanted to have a peek at what it was all about. I followed the trail up which is incredibly well marked. Past people snow shoeing up and a number of groups up for the weekend as part of a nearby ice festival learning about avalanche rescue techniques. The wind certainly felt less strong and it was definitely a warmer day than the previous one. Snow occasionally fell from the trees. It was a pretty magical sight.

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Slowly but surely the ravine revealed itself. Each glimpse between the trees showing a bit more until I came round the corner and caught sight of the whole area. With clear views of the summit of mount washington in the background. There in front the huge tuckermanns ravine and the steepest ski descents in the north east, or at least one of the better known ones.

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Arriving at a small cabin and there were groups continuing up as part of their avalanche course as well as some skiers who despite the now windy conditions had opted to try a few routes. It looked pretty incredible and in places pretty intimidating even from a distance. I headed on up the mountain as I wanted to see the full face of it. Some of the slopes are up at 40 - 50 degree range. The wind had certainly picked up though and I was now taking a bit of a beating even if it was warmer than the previous day. Arriving at the bottom of tuckermanns and I could finally take it it. I definitely want to return to the slopes here and take on some of these descents.

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Heading back down the mountain and my legs could finally enjoy a bit of a down hill ski. After trekking up it made for a nice change. Despite this I still had to walk a few bits at the top due to not being able to find a decent route to ski down as well as the path I walked up being really quite tight between rocks, trees and a small stream that with the warmer conditions wasn’t completely covered in snow.

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I soon found myself down the bottom  of the mountain just in time to munch a load of food in the car and before the return journey back down south to new jersey.

Skimo - Berkshire East

Over the last few years there has been a huge increase in the number of ultra running races and trail races around the world with people looking beyond the standard road marathon to get their athletic fix. Regardless of what I do the option to go out running in the hills and mountains is always tempting.

The winter months give an opportunity for some down time, change the activity or generally prepare the coming season. For a while now I have been reading and watching more about skimo racing also known as randonee and ski mountaineering. Which from a racing stand point and ignoring the degrees of difference in technical descents and ascents basically involves hiking up hill either boot packing (going up hill with skis on your back), skinning (ski up hill with special material on the base of the skis called skins) and then descending the mountains as fast as you can.

When I moved to the north east of the U.S. and with the mountains nearby I went about searching for an event to enter. I found the north east rando race series. A series of events around the north east of the US and the timing was perfect. My first weekend in the U.S and there was an event on.

With snacks for the drive bought, I woke in the early hours of the morning to make the 4 hour drive up the road. The conditions over the last few weeks had been warm and the day was looking to continue this trend.

Despite this there was still a chill in the morning air and with this came the occasional blanket of fog which made for some spectacular scenery particularly where there were small clearings.

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Arriving at Berkshire east and there was one guy making an early start on the course in shorts and t-shirt. Which was a long way of my ski trousers and jacket. I hoped the day would stay cold, otherwise I was going to be ridiculously hot scaling the mountain. After getting organised it was time to start the race amongst a group of people ranging from the lycra clad to the occasional ski tourer.

Making a dash up the mountain the group soon dispersed as we made our first lap up the mountain. Before the first corner my jacket was as off and for the ascents only my helmet soon came off too. It was sweltering. First up hill done and it was the transition back to skiing down hill. The skins were off the bottom of the skis and everything switched back into ski mode for a brief ski half way down the mountain. This sounds much quicker than it was in practise, initially with the skins flapping all over the place  nothing helps speed things up with either bad weather or the time pressure of a race. That and a desire to cool down on the descent. It was then a walking stage up a steep wooded part of the route with our skis on our backs before we exited the forest and could get ours ski’s back onto ski touring mode for the last bit back to the top of the mountain. Skins off and it was time to go full speed down to the bottom of the mountain to repeat this a three more times. On the way up I ended up chatting to one of the local ski patrollers and another guy who turned out to be the owner of the ski resort which passed the time and made sure we were going at a steady pace up hill. With the U.S elections only just completed it was certainly interesting to start getting more of a local insight into it.

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With the day heating up I stopped to get some water from a nearby stream having used up my small water bottle over the first few laps. Despite it being in january most people had switched to open jackets or just a thin shirt. One guy had even opted to go topless.

After the third lap it was time to head to the second stage of the race on the other side of the mountain. Amazingly some people had already finished. The skiing down became increasingly harder as my legs became more tired. This was my first ski day of the season, ski touring race and I had literally arrived in the US three days earlier.

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Despite this i finished the final couple of laps and very quickly ended up in the cafe for a well deserved feast of food before the prize giving. It was at this point I realised the quality of the field. Ranging from those competing for positions in the US team to the previous record holder Ed Warren for the fastest ascent of Denali before this was taken by Kilian Jornet. Certainly an impressive range of athletes.

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All in all I seriously enjoyed the north east rando race and will certainly be working out how to fill the next seasons schedule with races. It mixes mountains, skiing and running into a pretty epic combination. By the end I was sufficiently knackered, yet despite this my legs still felt good enough the following day to tear through some laps of a nearby mountain before the rain descended on the area. I can certainly see why this is the perfect winter trainer or event in its own right when you have mountains nearby.

Bring on the next season.

For those interested check out:

http://nerandorace.blogspot.com

and for those in the UK there is always the Scottish one:

http://www.skimoscotland.co.uk

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