Tyler Ray, Granite Chief
Granite Backcountry Alliance
North Conway, NH 03860
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Two Federal Tree-Skiing Projects Approved for Review in White Mountain National Forest
May 25, 2017 (North Conway, NH) - Granite Backcountry Alliance, a nonprofit formed in September 2016, dedicated to advancing the interests of backcountry skiing in New Hampshire and western Maine, has obtained preliminary approval from the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) for two backcountry tree-skiing projects in the Forest.
In a letter dated April 10, 2017, White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) Supervisor Tom Wagner delivered the message to GBA stating “at this time, I am willing to move forward on evaluating the viability of two of your proposed projects: Bartlett Mountain (Bartlett, New Hampshire) and Baldface (Chatham, NH / Stow, ME)”. Wagner added “I applaud your group’s success in rapidly organizing individual skiers and riders to collectively engage with members of my recreation staff and I look forward to developing that relationship further.”
The initial approval is a major milestone for GBA, the WMNF, and the backcountry skiing community, since thinning of trees for backcountry glade skiing is prohibited without approval in the national forest. To date, WMNF has never approved a glade skiing project in its nearly 100 year history. In just nine months of existence, GBA secured that approval. GBA gained the support of the WMNF by demonstrating the surge in backcountry skiing and riding in the WMNF and the need for expanded terrain options for different user abilities. GBA Granite Chief Tyler Ray said, “We are thrilled the WMNF has taken a pragmatic approach to backcountry skiing initiatives in the WMNF, resurrecting a prominent activity dating back to the 1930’s. We are confident that, with formal approval, our user base will rise to the challenge and make these projects a long-lasting success in partnership with the WMNF”.
Although the two projects are subject to environmental review and the scope of the projects may change during the review process, Ray indicated that “the takeaway is that, at its most basic level, the WMNF publicly supports the movement of responsible glading for backcountry skiing on public lands and that’s a big win. Combined with our low-impact and sustainable approach to developing tree-skiing, we anticipate being able to provide safe yet exciting options for a variety of user abilities whether for exploratory day tours or as an alternative to the risk of avalanches or other extreme hazards found in the high alpine”.
Long-time skier and outdoors advocate United States Congresswoman Anne Kuster (NH), who provided critical initial support connecting GBA and WMNF, stated ““I am so excited for the opportunities this will bring to the North Country of New Hampshire - more skiers, more terrain, more economic activity. I want to commend the Granite Backcountry Alliance, the White Mountain National Forest, and Tom Wagner and his staff for working together over the past 6 months to develop a path forward to increase the terrain available for backcountry skiing in the White Mountains. This is a growing sport and opening more of our lands for outdoor recreation like low impact backcountry skiing is a great step forward in a very short amount of time. Congratulations!”
PROPOSED BACKCOUNTRY GLADE PROJECTS
Bartlett Mountain - The Bartlett Mountain project delivers on GBA’s strategic intent to revive former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) ski trails across New Hampshire and Western Maine, of which there were at one time over sixty trails in New Hampshire alone. The storied Maple Villa Ski Trail, named for a hotel at the end of the original ski trail, was quite popular, according to Jeff Leich, Executive Director of the New England Ski Museum. “Maple Villa was a popular ski trail cut by the CCC in the 1930s that was very close to the Intervale train station, where the Boston snow trains stopped”. The run originally contained an impressive 2,000 foot plus vertical drop in over two and a half miles. Continued Liech “Reviving Maple Villa as glade terrain will be a great test case for GBA’s efforts to reconnect with skiing’s past using modern glade development technique. This will be a fun project to watch, and then of course, ski!”
Although GBA is reviving the classic run, the methods of thinning the forest will be modernized to reflect the desire for skiers and riders to ski through the trees instead of openly cleared trails. Maple Villa will provide access to Bartlett Mountain for uphill climbing and for skiing out. The purpose is to align the glade cutting with GBA’s low-impact, sustainable, and environmentally-friendly standards. “We will restore the spirit of the trail to the extent possible” says Rick Jenkinson, Board member of GBA and Bartlett Mountain Glade Chief, “but we’ll incorporate methods of professional glade design, habitat awareness, and forestry practices, all to create a true human-powered backcountry experience”.
It’s not about just recreating one glade, said Ray. “We are in phase one of a larger plan where, if successful, Maple Villa will be a stepping stone to connect to other potential glade areas in the Bartlett zone– so we have much broader and bigger plans for skiing and riding enjoyment for these areas assuming they are well-received by the public and WMNF”.
South Baldface – Located almost directly on the state line separating Chatham, New Hampshire and Stow, Maine, South Baldface Mountain has long been an area of desire by skiers due to its tree-less alpine summit. However, due to the dense nature of the woods, the area below tree line is not able to be skied “without a hockey mask” says Baldface Glade Chief and GBA Board Member Steve Dupuis. The initial proposed area of interest is near or around the slippery brook trail which connects into the alpine snowfields. The vertical from the summit snowfields varies upon year, but is generally over 2,000 vertical feet from top to bottom. The trailhead has existing parking and bathrooms so the area is “a turnkey project”, said Dupuis. “GBA is looking forward to creating new and approved terrain in Evans Notch, diffusing congestion in other parts of the Whites, the economic impact it will bring to the local businesses, and mostly the quality of skiing. We’ll be able to take advantage of the area’s alpine conditions and weave that into gladed ski runs creating an incredibly unique user experience. It will be nothing short of spectacular!”
CONNECTING TO STRATEGIC PLAN
GBA is in phase one of its strategic plan implementing a glade network around the State of New Hampshire and Maine. “The key piece to our strategy is to not focus entirely on the WMNF but also develop complementary options in fringe areas including state, municipal and third party properties”, said Ray. “The underlying rationale is we are digging after something deeper – such as building community roots around outdoor recreation. We think these areas will benefit from hosting this unique terrain”. GBA currently has other smaller but exciting projects in the works, including Gorham, Randolph, Lancaster and Franconia (all in NH), as well as areas in western Maine surrounding Sugarloaf Mountain and the Maine Huts & Trails. But make no mistake”, says Ray, “the WMNF is the mothership to the whole glade network and ties everything together. These federal projects are critical to developing the full enterprise”.
TRAIL WORK WEEKENDS THIS SUMMER
GBA is hosting several trail work weekends this summer to prepare for next winter to create a revitalized landscape of backcountry terrain that is fueled by user/volunteer participation. “The response so far has been enormously positive”, said GBA Board Member and Secretary Casy Calver. “We have an incredible group of passionate skiers that want more terrain to play with. When everyone lends a hand, the process goes a lot faster”.
The public is invited to join GBA this summer individually or in groups for its work weekends including June 24th and 25th in Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire (with after-party at Black Mountain) in partnership with Friends of Tuckerman Ravine; July 29th and 30th on Doublehead Ski Trail in Jackson, NH; and finally on August 26 and 27th in the Randolph Community Forest in Randolph, NH. Each session will focus not only on safe glading practices, but also as social events with raffles, giveaways and other fun benefits in the evening.