And the Snow Has Begun

2012-09-24 19:46:52.000 – Mike Dorfman,  Summit Intern

A dusting of snow from today’s showers

We had our first snowfall of autumn today! The falling snow was relatively brief, but it brought back many memories from the not-so-recent meltout last spring. Pictures of early season snow on Mount Washington either gets people’s hearts longing for winter or make people wish the summer hadn’t gone by so fast.

As fall progresses to winter, the summit will get many feet of snow. Come spring this snow, bitterly cold and dangerously unstable in mid-winter, induces a migration of ski addicts to the mountain. One of the most popular places to ski is Tuckerman’s Ravine, Southeast of the summit. Much of the snow on the summit above is drifted into the ravine, piling snow tens of feet deep onto the ravine floor. On warm spring days, there can be hundreds of people in a long line climbing up the steep snowy slopes for the opportunity to ski snow with pitches of 55 degrees and steeper (to give you a sense of how steep that is, a steep black diamond run is usually about 45 degrees). Ski patrol takes its regular post at the bottom of the bowl, often making skiers believe that all the medical help they may need is easily accessible.

It is easy for skiers to not realize the risks they may take skiing on Mt Washington. They may be surrounded by hundreds of people cheering them on as if they were in a gigantic stadium, but one misjudgment can have grave consequences. Each year, many skiers are seriously injured in Tuckerman’s Ravine. Many skiers don’t understand that it can take countless hours to get the seriously injured to medical help.

Mt Washington has this allure for hikers, too. People heading up the mountain are lulled into a false sense of security by planning to take cover in one of the summit buildings or take a car back down to the base if the weather gets bad. Especially this time of year, not all hikers understand that the summit is iced over on a regular basis when the valley is warm. In the case that the auto road closes or the summit building is not open (such as in the winter), unprepared hikers must rely on rescuers to help find a safe way down the mountain. Unprepared hikers are putting their own safety at risk and sometimes risking the safety of their rescuers.

As with any outdoor adventure, there is always risk involved when ascending Mt Washington. Hikers can minimize this risk by preparing for a backcountry, not a front country, adventure. In Tuckerman’s ravine this may involve gaining experience on smaller runs before skiing down high risk runs. When climbing Mount Washington this involves preparing for worse conditions than you believe you’ll encounter and turning around if you think you may be unprepared for the conditions in front of you. If you are unsure of the consequences of a certain hike or ski run, travelling with a guided group is a good way to understand how to minimize risks. Climbing Mount Washington, just like skiing Tuckerman’s Ravine, is an incredible, and sometimes a life changing, experience. However, travelers must always be mindful to be self-reliant and anticipate the ever-changing conditions on the summit.


Mike Dorfman,  Summit Intern

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