The goal of Granite Backcountry Alliance is to advance the sport of backcountry skiing in New Hampshire and Western Maine to provide low-impact human-powered backcountry skiing opportunities to the public through the creation, improvement and maintenance of ski glades. To meet that objective, Granite BC will invest resources in land conservation and access, safety and education, and partnerships and collaboration.
Our strategic model is two-part; in the first instance, we want to create exceptional ski terrain in the White Mountains. Elevation, aspect and location is very important, especially considering climate change. With smart planning, we can be where the snow is going to stay fresh and protected to provide the best conditions.
The second part is complementary to the first part. We call it #GIMBY, or “Glade in my Back Yard”. The concept is through localized effort, each community, particularly those on the fringes of the Whites, should have their own glade to ski. Such opportunity, in turn, fosters strong and healthy communities, providing a place to congregate and recreate during the winter months. Much like the ski clubs from the 1930s (before chairlifts), nearly every mountainous town had its own ski run managed by a the local ski club. We are adopting that model, of localizing efforts, going from town to town to facilitate the growth of a network of glades.
We live in a special place with unique resources – we want to use these resources in a low impact, sustainable way that provides a big reward to those who live here and those that visit.
Granite Backcountry Alliance is a 501(c)(3) New Hampshire non-profit. The organization officially incorporated last September, 2016, and has had tremendous success in capturing the momentum of backcountry skiers in what is now the fastest growing segment of the ski industry. Skiers are flocking to the backcountry for various reasons – some of which include fitness, return to nature, high resort prices, and improvement of backcountry equipment.
Our mission is to advance the interests of backcountry skiing in NH and western Maine through development, improvement and maintenance of ski “glades”.
Glade skiing is characterized by skiing “through the trees”. The process of creating these conditions is to thin out the forest of hobblebrush, saplings and other underbrush (trees under 4 inch diameter) to create holes to ski through. Without such clearing, one would need a hockey mask to get through. The tree canopy provides snow protection and the thinning is healthy for the forest allowing it to breath and better sustain wildlife and tree growth. These runs will not be identifiable from roadways or be seen in any way which has a adverse impact on views.
NH is blessed with the Presidential Range, which is home to a wide variety of high alpine above-treeline skiing. However, there is currently no existing network of below-treeline skiing, which would provide important alternatives to better accommodate not only different ability levels but create safer options during dangerous weather conditions and/or avalanche risk. Further, our goal is to diffuse the traffic in the very limited areas that currently exist, such as Tuckerman Ravine, and educate skiers about the benefits of working as a group. Skiers that cut ski glades on their own terms on other people’s property without permission only hurt the cause. We believe there is a “new normal” happening in this new era of smartphones and social media; in other words, there is a level of transparency, disclosure, and permission that is required to new and exciting terrain for skiers of all levels. That said, GBA is not in favor of hand-holding, or spoonfeeding information - we want to retain the element of being in the wild and navigating for your turns.
Granite BC will be governed by a working Board of Directors and an Advisory Group of diverse industry professionals and service providers from across the State of New Hampshire and Western Maine. The group is established as a “hub and spoke” model in which Granite BC will be the “hub” (or parent) and local groups will be “spokes”. Initially, Granite BC will operate in a centralized incubator mode prior to development or procurement of groups. Our focus will be two-part: (1) terrain in the White Mountains and (2) localized ski zones across our geographic territory. Once processes, formulations, and relationships are established will we expand our outreach to western Maine and the western Whites.
Our team will focus internally on project acquisition and glade development, events and community builders, membership, and outreach. Glade projects are the heart of what we do and that will be the initial focus. Once projects are secured we can then shift focus toward cultivation of backcountry principles, and use the projects as tools for education and outreach. Events will develop user-group community bonding and help drive membership. Social media will also be another strong vehicle for outreach and GBA will leverage accordingly.
Hub and Spoke Model
GBA will serve as hub and collaborate with local partner entities to identify key areas for glade skiing. Together, GBA and a local partner can collaborate with public and private landowners to create a different form of land conservation. Once a glade project is completed, GBA hands back "the keys" to the local partner and moves on to the next town/project. It is important to state that GBA's model requires locals to stay in control of their glades, not GBA. We want to help on the start-up side, and empower locals to manage terrain independently.
As a means to entry into local markets, GBA offers a Snow Miner program. The Snow Miner program is the eyes and ears on the ground across our geographic terrain. Whether in distant areas of NH and western Maine or in heavily populated use zones, we empower correspondents to inform us of activities and snow conditions in these zones, not as a form of exploitation of an area, but rather to showcase general conditions, report incidents or rep for GBA at events. The Snow Miners are experienced backcountry skiers and riders and love to spread the stoke of of our homeland.
At the core of GBA are the QUARRY DOGS, our tireless volunteers, who commit either financially or through labor, to support the cause of expanding the playground. Membership levels will be affordable and offer options for pay-in or full membership through two days of volunteering. Membership benefits will be developed over time, but will include discounts to favorite vendors and products to help help ease the expense of purchasing new gear.
Events are at the core of what we do - it's keeps everything "social" and serves as a reminder we are part of a larger community. From human-powered "film festivals", to "Wild Corn" to "GranJams", GBA has been innovating the events scene for backcountry skiers. We like to take a lively, interactive approach utilizing tools of music and camaraderie to generate excitement and stoke.
Our GranJam series innovates the typical trail day experience by focusing on the social experience. For example, fellow skiers get to network and meet each other, businesses get involved, parties at night with live music, and all meals, snacks and beverages included for volunteers. We try to make it easy for folks to not only volunteer, but choose to not go to the beach or boatingn and come help cut trees and brush on a mountainside. Thus far, volunteers have been very receptive, and we had over 250 volunteers in 3 work weekends in the summer of 2017.
The businesses we work with range from local to regional to national. We focus on local businesses to help promote the business and drive traffic in return during the winter months. For Randolph, for example, we secured commitments from Water Wheel Restaurant, White Mountain Café, Moat Mountain, Hub North, Coos Cycling Club, Vintage Junky, Rust and Found, Labonville, Gorham Hardware, Mr. Pizza, among others. The point is with a "give" there's a "get", and in this case its new business from skiers coming from all over to ski glades in the north country. We are confident in our final product and feel folks will visit to check things out. It’s a great opportunity to promote, celebrate and showcase the area with the bet that these users will not only visit in the winter months but patron the businesses that support the cause.
Funding will come in the form of donation, grant and/or crowd-funding, depending on the project, activity or event. Primary fundraisers include the Winter Wildlands Alliance Backcountry Film Festival which GBA will host at various locations during the fall. GBA's signature spring event will be“Wild Corn”, which is a celebration of a fullseason catering to membership interests of GBA and neighboring backcountry ski alliance groups. Summer months will be for work weekends in the form of"GranJams" (which are geared towards strong social components to lure folks from the beaches to the mountains) or bare bones work days aptly called "Beers at the Bottom" which are more fittingly scheduled in the fall months. GBA will also sprinkle in various events from time to time and is considering a third large winter event on the Mt. Washington Auto Road called "Skin to the Clouds" which is in discussion.
Policy, Advocacy, and Education
Granite BC will advocate in regard to legislation, regulations and rules with public policy makers on new forestry management plans and other policies, similar to other recreational lobbying groups representing snowmobiling, alpine and nordic skiing, hiking and mountain biking. Granite BC will provide educational opportunities for ecological awareness, avalanche and general winter safety, including publishing a backcountry skiing ethics handbook and guidebook, and drive conservation efforts for partnerships with key landowners (USFS, state, private, land trusts, etc).
Education will also be an item on the Granite BC’s platform. We are affiliated with Winter Wildlands Alliance, a national non-profit organization focused on the human-powered backcountry experience. We will participate and present at events such as Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop (presentation with USFS, November 2016) and create events and awareness through social media, backcountry ethics handbook, trail signs and skier/rider responsibility user code. We will also partner with industry professionals to help promote safe winter travel, avalanche education, first responder training, mapping and cartography courses among other topics that come up from time to time.
The New Hampshire and Maine culture, traditionally, have been one of open land, with strong landowner liability laws that help property owners feel comfortable with open use. Granite BC seeks to capitalize on this tradition and provide safe and sustainable trails and backcountry ski glades for visitors and locals alike.
Granite BC is optimistic in that public and private land can be managed in a favorable way to incorporate backcountry skiing; however, the group is realistic in that such progress is and can be slow-moving and face a variety of hurdles to overcome. Certain existing and/or known challenges can be identified as follows:
- Ecological impact of development of glades. We as well as Vermont's glade groups, are actively monitoring the impact.
- Users that are resistant to change and evolution of the “new normal” (which we classify as disclosure, transparency, and permission);
- Development of trust and credibility with partner organizations such as the USFS;
- securing and maintaining legal access to trails/glades;
- Creation, determination, and/or management of adequate parking (and consideration of the potential increase) as well as existing on-site bathrooms;
- Monitoring rogue trail cutting and minimizing such efforts through educational and team-building efforts;
Nationwide Backcountry Skiing Trend
Although much of the backcountry skiing scene died with the advent of chairlifts and other modern luxuries and amenities, a resurgence nationwide – even globally – has created a significant increase in demand for backcountry skiing opportunities. The trend is spread from hard goods to hut trips to land conservation. New advocacy groups including the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, Tahoe Backcountry Alliance and the Montana Backcountry Alliance, as well as neighboring Vermont Backcountry Alliance (“VTBC”) and Adirondack Powder Skiing Association, all seek to create new opportunities for backcountry skiers. VTBC, for example, and its pilot chapter Rochester Area Sports Trails Alliance (“RASTA”), have received approval from the Green Mountain National Forest for the glade development of “Brandon Gap” which is in development (the first of its kind in the USA). These groups derive support from the Winter Wildlands Alliance, a national non-profit, and ultimate parent, of the various alliances.
Increased demand, however, comes at a cost. Lost skiers, bootleg trails, damage to the environment, avalanche dangers. The need for education is real. The dangers of doing nothing have already impacted landowners, businesses, and communities. Granite BC will propose backcountry ethics handbook and principles, which can be posted at each skiing trailhead, educational sessions and offerings, skinning policy for resorts, and other measures to develop a sense of culture in the community (and prevent individuals unilaterally and without authorization removing or clipping vegetation on their own).
GBA has received approval from the White Mountain National Forest for two federal projects, one on Bartlett Mountain in Bartlett, NH and the other on South Baldface in Evans Notch which is located on the border, in Chatham, NH. Bartlett Mountain is representative of our strategy to revive old abandoned CCC ski trails that were built in the 1930’s. The Maple Villa Ski Trail is just that – and we will revive the trail and then add glades around it to make it modern and fun.
GBA has state projects in Lancaster (Mount Prospect), Franconia (Cooley Jericho Community Forest), Gorham (Pine Hill on private land owned by Gorham Land Company) among many others and has also actively maintained certain classic trails including the John Sherburne Ski Trail, Gulf of Slides Ski Trail, and Doublehead Ski Trail, all of which had not seen serious maintenance in many years.
Without sufficient terrain expansion, coupled with skier education and safety, backcountry skiing in New Hampshire and Western Maine will continue its growth trend that may love existing areas "to death". GBA intends to tackle that issue head-on by creating a network of backcountry glade zones to diffuse traffic and create recreational diversity in terrain options.