Thursday, January 19, 2012

-Trip Report- Doublehead Mountain: Thin Crusts Are For Pizzas (January 2012)

There are some days when you know the trip down is going to be more work than the climb up; days where your knees ache just looking at the snow pack;  days where you feel like you're skiing in a straightjacket.

Those are the days of the thin crust.  And I'm not talking pizza.

The look of someone who knows they are totally F***d
on the descent.
It was already mid-January and the abysmally low snowpack had thus far prevented me from venturing off-piste for a backcountry tour.  I was getting desperate.

A moderate storm and a trip to my favorite winter weekend destination: North Conway, was just the cure needed.  When I first planned on heading to North Conway, I briefly considered a run up to Tuckerman’s and a ride down the Sherburne.  However, I figured Washington would probably be busy given it was the MLK holiday weekend.  So I set my sights on Doublehead instead.

The view East.  Better than the view in the
Mentioned by Goodman in his Backcountry Bible, I had long been curious to check it out.  Doublehead is situated only a fifteen minute drive and a little more than a stone’s throw from Black Mountain.   The humming lifts at Black remind you that you’re not far from civilization as you set off from the easy access trailhead.

Adding to the “side-country” feel, Doublehead seems to get plenty of traffic.  Far from an untracked bushwhack to North Twin, this tour had the feel more akin to Greylock and Cardigan.

Like Greylock and Cardigan, Doublehead features a wide ski trail that runs all the way up to the top of the mountain.  This makes for great piste-like skiing, and the combat skiing that comes with places like Welch-Dickey and Monadnock isn’t necessary.

Doublehead cabin: no valet parking.
I arrived in the late morning to an empty trailhead and had dreams of untracked powder.   Unfortunately, the mountain hadn’t seen snow in a couple of days, and in that time there had been plenty of skiers, snowshoers and cold air, leaving hard-set tracks in the trail.  I could tell in the first fifty yards that the skin up would be the easy part of my tour.

The air was warm (twenty degrees) in comparison to the previous few days, and I quickly shed layers trying to keep from sweating.  The relatively easy pitch only required a few switchback sections and the most difficult part of my climb was the mental battle of keeping my pace down to avoid getting drenched.  Given that I didn’t have to cut first tracks, I was to the top in about a half an hour.  There I found a locked cabin, an outhouse and some excellent views.

I soaked in the view of Mt. Washington to the West as well as a view of Maine to the East and readied myself for the descent.   

Not a bad view from the cabin.
Not since my battle with the snowpack on Monadnock a year earlier, had I worked so hard on going DOWN the mountain.  Where the snow hadn’t been tracked down and frozen there was a thin crust above about a foot of powder.  I alternated between racing down the frozen tracks to plowing through the crusty powder to check my speed.   Because of the crust, it was hard to get the back ends of my skis around on most turns:  kinda like skiing in a straightjacket.  To counter this, I jumped and bounced off of the various rocks, stumps and other terrain features to make mid-air turns.

While the conditions weren't ideal, I got a good chance to see all that Doublehead has to offer.  The trails needed only a few more inches of fresh powder to make for smoother turning.

In the end, I see Doublehead as an especially good mountain for cutting teeth on backcountry skiing.  The close proximity to rental options in North Conway, a wide trail, and a cabin for a comfortable overnight stay provide the perfect setting for an exploratory day tour, or that first night on the mountain.

Just make sure you get there early on a powder day.

Here's the video evidence:


  1. wow that really gave good view of the snow conditions. it must have killed you to go by all those open trees by the side. myself i would have probably gone down most of that on my as*.

    1. I had to do a lot of editing to cut out all the parts with me slicing into the woods to stop. I'd be curious to see how the glades between the ski and hiking trail look sometime when there's a little more snow.