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Skiing Tucks

mount-washington-tucks.jpgEvery spring, my friends ask me about "skiing Tucks?" They think it sounds like such fun, a big spring ski party! Tuckerman Ravine is typically the last chance to ski, the last vestige of vertical after ski areas have closed, and a big party on snow on the biggest of the east - Mount Washington at 6,288 feet. But to me, Tuckerman Ravine is a serious hike, not to be entered into lightly, since you will be hauling your ski gear 3.1 miles up a trail, to a high alpine environ where conditions are ever-changing, and the skiing is for experts.

Sorry, hate to be the spring party police, but Tuckerman Ravine deserves respect and real preparation before you just pack your picnic, your skis and go. Bad weather can blow in fast, and the ski terrain is natural and steep with 35-60 degree sustained pitch. Read the incidents and accidents blog, including an emergency helicopter rescue earlier this month, if you have doubts about whether you are ready for Tuck's.

Still, this southeastern side of Mount Washington is a very unique and spectacular glacial cirque that collects serious snow and has lured serious downhill skiers since the 1930's, the first top to bottom race, The Inferno, was held in 1933 and continues to this day - now it is a Pentathlon scheduled for April 21.

Tuckerman Ravine will see over 2,000 hiking skiers and snowboarders on a sunny spring day. Last year, Tuckerman's busiest day saw 4,000+ visitors, according to Nate Shedd at AMC Pinkham Notch, about 65-75% of those actually ski or ride. The rest are spectators on the Lunch Rocks, watching the show of skiers and riders descending the steep bowls, the scary falls, the crazy outfits and the crowds. It is quite a spring party, but the risk of falling and sliding on this steep natural terrain is ever present. There are volunteer patrols, but I would imagine they do not appreciate dealing with the ill-prepared.

This season, Tuckerman Ravine is experiencing their spring conditions a full month ahead of normal, just like New England ski areas. With only 174 inches of snow this winter, versus Tuckerman's typical 315, the marginal snow pack is making for less reliable conditions which will not likely last into May. Already the Sherburne Trail is not skiable beyond a third of the way down, which is premature for late March according to Shedd. Snow is in the forecast, today's Tuckerman Avalanche Advisory indicates, "increasing avalanche danger from Low to Moderate if the upper end of wind and snow comes to fruition. Also be prepared for a thin blanket of snow to hide some of the traditional spring hazards."

Even in a good snow year, Tuckerman Ravine is high risk terrain with inherent crevasses, inconsistent snow, variable conditions and falling ice. This is not a ski resort with groomed surfaces, ski lifts, base lodges, food service, fancy hotels, shops - you get the picture. You pack in and you pack out - ski gear, supplies, food, water, first aid, layers of clothing for sunny spring skiing to howling wind, sleet, snow and rain - you can encounter all of these harsh elements within hours on Mount Washington.

So if you are going to do Tuck's, check the Mount Washington weather and the avalanche report, pack accordingly, be prepared for a long hike in and out, and serious steep skiing. And do not wear sneakers just because they are "lighter and more comfy" like I did my first time. This is a big mountain, big spring skiing fun - yes, but big consequences exist - Tucks will muck with you if you are not prepared.
Mount Washington photo by Greg Burke

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