South Ammonoosuc Ravine – 4/01/2017



I had a very late start on Saturday, and thought I was the last person on the hill, until I saw one skier headed up ahead of me. When I got closer, I was surprised to see that he was one of [I]six [/I]skiers ahead of me. I caught up to the group, when they stopped in the fog below Jacobs Ladder. I guessed Plymouth State, or Lyndon State? – no, Bates College, they replied. Not an organized club, just six Mainiacs who love to ski. They had changed their plans to ski Tucks, after reading the MWAC avalanche advisory. They had never been to the Westside, and asked for my advice (be careful what you wish for!).

The Cog had only 4 inches of new snow down low, and even less above 4000 feet. They asked if there was anything more exciting to ski, than descending the Cog… I suggested we keep moving, up to Jacobs Ladder, only another hundred vertical feet further up – once there, we could put on another layer. and continue our conversation.
I told them that I’m the Cartographer for the Randolph Mountain Club, and asked if they knew a Bates College professor of Geology, Dykstra Eusden, who has been a life-long member of the RMC. Yes! Dyke had led several of them on a geology field trip to Tuckerman Ravine this year!

I had been looking at their alpine-touring ski equipment, and most of it was better than mine – they weren’t kidding, when they said they loved to ski.

I asked if they had beacons; three out of six did, which is above-average for the usual tour group on the Cog.
I suggested they could try skiing a few hundred feet down into Burt Ravine, close to the Cog, even in poor visibility, then skin back up, before descending the Cog. But it was late afternoon, with poor visibility, and without previous experience, I said it was too late to try anything more ambitious, above treeline.
Where are you going, Jon? Well, I really didn’t want to encourage an inexperienced group that large, that late in the day, to follow me in poor visibility.

I explained the tour I had in mind, outlining the risks. If visibility were better, they would have seen what I was talking about, and been able to make a better-informed decision.

Sight-unseen, they wanted to go, and I decided to give them a chance. If they couldn’t handle the first quarter-mile, I thought I would turn around and lead them back to the Cog. No problem, they all handled skiing the mixed snow and ice through rocks and krumholtz, with smiles on their faces. Exceeding my expectations, I had to admit these Bates College students really could ski well.

Without belaboring the safety info, we managed the hazardous crossing of the Central Gully in Ammo one-at-a-time. When we approached the avalanche terrain in South Ammo, I stopped everyone. On closer examination, it looked good, but I explained my concerns about the bond between the new snow, and the icy old surface we had skied across getting there. I made sure they understood that we had to space ourselves out, and ski it one-at-a-time – me first. The new snow here was over 18″ deep, a thick, dry, soft slab; very supportive, and it skied like a dream. I ripped two-dozen turns without any significant sluffs – no red-flags – before stopping, out of the direct fall line, to watch the next six skiers. The second biggest thrill for me, after skiing really good snow, is watching really good skiers, skiing really good snow! I know the professional guides, and many others, would second-guess my decision to lead this group into this terrain; I’m not sure I would do it again, but I followed my instincts and I think it was the right decision that day. I later learned that Megan, who was too modest, has volunteered many hours coaching disabled athletes at Loon Mt ski area.

Great people, great skiers, who I hope learned a little from me, on a great ski-tour.

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