Granite Backcountry Alliance: Building Backcountry Skiing in New Hampshire

A crowd of skiers and snowboarders gathers in the parking lot at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. They review their gear and make a plan before heading out on the trail to Hermit Lake Shelter. Everyone seems prepared, but there are no skis. Or snow. Also, it’s June. Instead, this group gathers to perform a labor of love in trail maintenance and glade work with Granite Backcountry Alliance.

Granite Backcountry Alliance

Granite Backcountry Alliance (GBA) is a collective of skiers and snowboarders passionate about backcountry skiing in New Hampshire. The group strives to build a foundation for backcountry skiing with responsible glade creation, education, and social events. Tyler Ray, GBA Granite Chief, points to the state’s rich history of backcountry skiing in Tuckerman Ravine and on the trails carved by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

A US Forest Service Ranger addresses the volunteers on the John Sherburne Trail work day.

“There’s a lot of backcountry skiing out there but it’s in the high alpine,” explains Ray. “There’s nothing really below treeline, and our goal is to address that problem.”

A Glade Network

GBA plans to build a network of below-treeline glades scattered across New Hampshire. The end game is twofold: create new opportunities for backcountry enthusiasts while diffusing traffic to the existing, heavily traveled areas. Citing the hazards of crowded backcountry ski terrain – for both the skiers and the terrain alike – Ray looks to the periphery of the White Mountains as prime real estate for glade development.

A volunteer trims tree branches in hopes of a high snowpack.

“If you look on a map and you look at the White Mountains, think of that as the nucleus,” Ray explains. “We have all these fringe areas on the outskirts. That’s what we’re trying to develop to complement the bigger terrain.” The group plans to develop terrain for all ability levels and focus on choosing the right locations. Picking terrain at the right elevation and aspect (the compass direction a slope faces) is a recipe for successful snowpack. Making those locations accessible and beneficial to the surrounding area is a win for all involved.

Quarry Dogs pose during a lunch break on the Doublehead Ski Trail work day.

A Benefit to All

“A complimentary strategy that we have is to create these ski zones in these communities across the state of New Hampshire,” states Ray in his vision. “Building these glades also benefits the towns by providing an economic boost and creating a community feel.”

GBA’s methodology involves working with local leaders and landowners to find a solution to bring glade skiing to their town. One of the group’s summer projects in Randolph united GBA with the town Forestry Commission and Planning Board.

“We approached the Forestry Commission and went in front of the board about six times,” Ray explains the process. “We started from scratch: getting in scouting, hiring glade designers, and drafting memorandums and contracts before the actual implementation.”

Volunteers gather to construct New Hampshire’s first municipal glade in Randolph.

The efforts made history: the first municipal glade in New Hampshire. On the actual project day GBA drew 60 volunteers, or “Quarry Dogs,” to assist in creating four new glade lines in the Randolph Community Forest. Afterward the crew celebrated with live music, food and drinks, and raffles at Gorham’s Hub North. “The Randolph glade project is a good microcosm example of what we’re all about,” Ray beams. “We’re creating a community, building a social network, getting some exercise, and getting it all done.”

Apres-work day party at Gorham’s Hub North.

Harnessing the Opportunity

Ray isn’t shy in declaring his personal stake in GBA’s work. “I’ve been exploring and adventuring my whole life – now I’m married and I have two children: my time is much more limited,” he admits. “I have a demanding job, but I still want to go skiing.” The challenge for Ray (and many other skiers, including yours truly) is access to options outside of resorts. These hyper-local glades provide a faster way to access terrain, whether on a morning dawn patrol, squeezing in lunch runs, or hitting laps after work.

Tyler Ray, GBA Granite Chief, getting into his work on the Sherburne Trail.

GBA also drew inspiration from similar ski organizations in neighboring Vermont. The Rochester/Randolph Area Sports Trail Alliance (RASTA) and Catamount Trails Association have worked to bring glade skiing to the Green Mountains. “Seeing what they were up to I knew that we could replicate that here, we just needed to organize,” Ray declares. He equates the opportunities for skiing in New Hampshire to larger opportunities for life in the Granite State. Ray grew up in western Maine and forged his career as a lawyer in the city. Having returned home to the mountains, he admits the risk in his move but remains adamant in the choice.

“When people come to look at New Hampshire, whether looking to move here or move back here, there’s opportunity,” he says. “I’ve realized that there’s certainly enough business to go around, and people are active. It’s only increased my desire to be here. The work-life balance has been achieved.”

Ongoing Projects

In addition to the municipal glade in Randolph, GBA has had an active summer full of trail projects. In June the group performed much-needed trail maintenance on the John Sherburne and Gulf of Slides ski trails on Mount Washington. July brought on the construction of a half-mile trail to connect Jackson’s Doublehead Ski Trail to a future parking area. The Randolph glades capped off the summer in August, but the GBA crew looks forward to more projects before the snow flies. Future development sites under consideration spread throughout Gorham, Lancaster, Franconia, and Plymouth, among others.

To get involved in future volunteer days, learn more about GBA’s projects, or recommend a site for development, visit the group’s website or follow events on their Facebook page.

Trail workers descend the John Sherburne Trail after a successful day of work.

Photos courtesy of Granite Backcountry Alliance.

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