Skiing The Cog

Ski Conditions on The Cog Railway on Mount Washington

The latest storm to hit Mount Washington was unusual in that the prevailing winds were blowing from the east, rather than the west. This made for good skiing conditions next to the cog railroad.

Typically, strong west winds scour the west side of the mountain and dump snow into the ravines on the east side, making Tuckerman Ravine the skiing destination that it is. Without this wind loading Tucks would like remain a rocky, icy mess for most of the winter.

Seeing that there was a chance of the west side being very skiable after this storm, I made the drive up. Erik, a split boarder, met me up there. I wanted to check out the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail to see what the conditions were like so we started our skin from the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail parking lot.

The start of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

The start of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

The trail had a decent snowshoe pack for the first 3/10 mile and then the pack all but disappeared. I was on my skinny Transalp 80 skis. A little more float would have been appreciated. But we made out way through the fresh winter wonderland and eventually made our way to the beginning of the Cog Railway. Here we found more untracked snow and the trail breaking continued.

How do you make a snowboard useful in the backcountry? Turn it into a pair of skis!

How do you make a snowboard useful in the backcountry? Turn it into a pair of skis!

Erik professed to be horribly out of shape so broke trail the whole way up. As we got closer to Jacob’s ladder the weather became much more like what you’d expect on Mount Washington: The winds picked up, the temperature dropped and visibility decreased. As far as Mount Washington weather goes, it was pretty mild. I felt temperatures were still above zero and the wind was maybe 20-30 mph. Erik wasn’t used to these conditions and kept telling me he felt it was pretty gnarly. Ha! He had no idea.

It’s definitely winter up there.

It’s definitely winter up there.

Just above Jacob’s ladder the visibility dropped dramatically and the wind increased. We could see only about 20 feet in front of us and the snow looked like a single homogenous mass. You couldn’t distinguish any texture in the super-flat, foggy light.

I watched Erik, on wobbly legs, follow me up through a couple of kick turns. The area just above Jacob’s ladder is probably the only truly dangerous terrain next to the cog. On firm snow or ice a fall could send you sliding down quite a ways into Burt Ravine. Not being able to see the snow had me concerned, and watching Erik sliding around a foggy abyss increased my anxiety. I decided to transition here, at about 5,000 feet, before the visibility got any worse and someone got hurt. The summit would wait for another day.

With my first turn my lower ski fell away from the rest of me unexpectedly. The slope was way steeper than I thought! I couldn’t tell where anything was because of the flat light. This reaffirmed my decision to head down at this point. We only a a minute or two of skiing before the visibility increased, the snow softened and the psych was high. Erik and I spent the next 2,000 feet bouncing around in untouched boot high powder. The skinny skis did a marvelous job planing up on top of the snow. I couldn’t have asked for a better run.

Too much fun.

Too much fun.

Near the bottom, Erik and I parted ways. He would head home from here to drink beer and nurse his battered quads. I put my skins back on and headed up the hill for another lap!