Presidents Day weekend, Saturday 7AM: It was
snowing hard. The view from the window of the plow berm left by
the frustrated rocket scientist (wasting his talent driving snowplow)
made it clear that it would take 20 minutes just to drive out
to the street, let alone make time on the trek up to Mt. Cardigan
NH, since Jan had taken the SUV for the day.
The rock skis were at the ready, a pre-prepped
pack waited with beacon, shovel & probe-poles on board at
the prospect of skiing A few steeper lines on Cardigan. All dressed
up, and nowhere to go...
Aw heck, the avi-hazard was bound to be maxed out on the better
Hmmm...*&^%*&^.... what to do... Figuring
messy driving would keep my buddy Sandy from driving up from Rhode
Island to mix it up with hordes of school vacationers at the local
Mt. Wachusett, lift served yo-yos held negative appeal. And, as
much new snow had fallen, the snow pack in the woods at Wachusett
still was inadequate for skiing the ledgy bouldery back bowls...
Then, epiphany! In the flash of inspiration
where the caffeine hits the sugar, transcendence, the sudden realization
that I live in the State of Grace! (Mount Grace, Massachusetts,
that is!) A quintessentially New England un-inspiring bump of
a hill spittin distance from the NH border, Mt. Grace rises
to a mere 1610 above the Atlantic, but its blessed
with one very fun skiable hiking trail! The Metacomet-Monadnock
trail wends its way from Connecticut to New Hampshire cutting
a SW-NE diagonal across Mt. Graces summit, and the run NE
from the summit is a great ski tour. Wide enough to make turns
on the steeper sections, and straight runouts below the tight
spots it would make an ideal consolation prize on a high-avalanche
hazard day, if only I could con a buddy with a 4WD to go along.
I know, call Aaron- hes easy, especially
if backcountry skiing is involved!
At the turnout just north of where the M-M
crosses route 78 Aaron gunned it to crash through the plow berm
and spin-out facing the road. Parked! He strapped the nearly glideless
Voile Snakeskins to his beaten Atomic Tourcaps, while I
applied Swix Universal Red wax to the bases of my trash picked
Dynastar Verticals. The ascent was going to be a contest of competing
A snowmobiler had beaten us to the punch, leaving
a well-groomed path up the middle of the M-M. That made climbing
easier, but was bound to rob us of some fun on the downhill run.
As might be expected, the waxed skis left the skins in the dust
on the flatter portions, while the skins cruised easily up the
steeper shots as I herringboned, backslipped & sidestepped
up the whoop-de-dos left by the snowmobiles scramble.
Eleven hundred feet above the car we
summited. The unspectacular summit adorned by a large boulder
and a fire tower is fully wooded providing no panorama-payoff
for hikers, which may account for the phenomenally good condition
of the hiking trail. Whereas most New England hiking trails are
eroded into bouldery drainages by swarms of summer hikers, the
M-M on Mt. Grace is smooth and even, almost made for skiing!
Right: Aaron stripping his snake-skins
A few glugs from the water jugs and donning
our shell clothing we were off. Trading leads every couple hundred
yards so as not to lose track, we burned off the first 200
of vertical in exhilarating tight turns across the snowmachine
spoor. At an intersection with a traversing trail we opted to
explore a bit, hoping to find a decent glade shot into the drainage
alongside the M-M. Paydirt! In less than ¼ mile our quarry
was spotted- untracked 10-18 fluff in widely spaced trees!
Taking it slowly to avoid the numerous shin-bangers
the next 400 of vertical included some of the sweetest low-angle
glade skiing on earth. Eventually the grade petered out and we
angled the bushwhack through somewhat tighter under story of mountain
laurel and young hemlocks to rejoin the M-M. The remainder of
the M-M was a hoot- fast and rippin in the track, sweet
& silken on the trail edges, it was hard not to have fun!
Blasting into the open clearing by the Adirondack
shelter near the bottom of the trail we had our first encounter
of the day with hominids: 3 guys & a ½ rack of volume
brew, in the care of a friendly pair of black labradors. Chatting
for a few minutes we bid them adieu, setting off for further explorations.
A quarter mile south on the Round the
Mountain trail, paralleling the road is an abandoned ski area.
The remains of a rope tow drive abuts the snowmobile-groomed
hiking trail. But the open lines on what remains of the ski trail
was untracked! This was skinnin & grinnin territory!
Right: The rope tow drive still has .the stove-bolt
Right: The rope tow drive still has .the stove-bolt
Starting out fairly flat, the grade rises quickly
to a sustained 15-20 degrees as the line narrows. The open line
ends almost 200 vertical feet above the bottom, but picking our
way though the denser trees we searched in vain for more skiable
open glades. Heading toward the light, I skinned and sidestepped
below a 10 granite boulder for a better view. With one ski
edged on granite & moss the other wedged between 2 small trees
on a sloughing 35 degree side hill I called back to Aaron, Doesnt
look like this is the ski trail! He had to grab a tree to
keep from falling he was laughing so hard.
Pressing on and doubling back though a thicket
of small hemlock & birch I nearly bonked my head on the top
pole of the lift! Wed found the top of the resort, but the
lines immediately below werent exactly skiable. Turn, stop.
push branches away, repeat... but shortly we were stopped atop
the remaining open line, pausing to contemplate the dozen available
Aaron took first tracks, bottoming out on
a rain-crust every other turn in 8-12 of fluff. Ducking
the pungee-stick dead lower branches of the numerous spruce trees
I took a slightly different line, gobbling up the 200 vertical
in short order. It was a sweet but technical run with little
room for error (a bit of trail maintenance may be
in order), but not unduly hazardous in the given conditions.
Right: Dana ducks! Photo: Aaron
It was getting late, as I had much to do before
dark, so with a short kicknglide on the snowmobile
track we were ready to blast back through the freshly reinforced
plow berm back onto the highway. I wonder how many runs
at it we will have to make? Aaron mused. (The answer: Seven!
And the dealer always comments at trade in time on how well he
takes car of his cars- if he only knew!)
All in all, for a short day trip, it wasnt
a bad consolation prize at all!