Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Trip Report: Ascutney 12.30.12

Kick turn and a bute!

Senior citizens, while slow and dangerous behind the wheel, can still serve a purpose. In the grand scheme of generational greatness, obviously the bar was set pretty high during WW II. Slightly further down that list are pioneers, Vikings, and coming in a close 4th, the extremely badass leather ski boot generation.

These nuts have been strapping on their woodies to careen awkwardly down the neighborhood ski slope longer than most of us have been on shape skis. So pay attention next time you see a streak of blue hair whizz by and cut you off in line for the rope tow. Old people can shred too.

I've been thinking a lot about old people since our last tour to Ascutney, where Brad and I found ourselves strapping up in the West Windsor Town Forest parking lot along with notorious big mountain skier and Alaska aficionado Ben Szekely, and two Elderhostel busses full of crazy grizzled old whitebeards in leather boots and knickers.

We've been to Ascutney before, first to take on the open slopes and raggedy moosegrass of it's derelict ski trails, and again a few weeks later to venture off the back side in search of rabbit holes and powder gardens. I'm a huge fan of the mountain. Ascutney has some of the best single track mountain biking in all of New England, and when the snow starts to fall there are more than a few good lines to be found on one of 7 different ridges that run up to an easy 3100 foot summit.

Since Brad and I are more our less locals, it's both our right and responsibility to know all of the best ways up and down our closest Green Mountain peak. If it is indeed a Green Mountain peak. I'm no geologist but have often commented on the birds eye view sphincter-like appearance White Mountain peaks have when compared to more uniform ridge lines of the central and northern Greens. Ascutney seems to fall closer to the White than the Greens in that respect.

Ghost of Ascutney's Past
Ascutney's unique (to Vermont) topography makes it very hard to really know all the best ways to earn your view from the top and ski the most possible powder on your way back to the car. Our previous tour took us up Bicentenial Trail from the West Windsor Town Forest parking lot, but I've also hiked and scouted two other summit trails and found the same skiing almost everywhere. Tricky tight off-camber creek bed skiing. And plenty of it.

You'll notice from the old ski area trail map that the majority of man-made ski trails flow from skiers left to right, rather than top to bottom. The ravine sidehill effect is complemented by a series of very steep shorter pitches between what feel like a number of plateaus or steps down the mountain. But all in all the terrain on this and each of the mountain's ridges drives the skier towards a central creek bed.

So, while the lines are tight and there's not a lot of open woods to work with, there's still plenty of fun to be had. What Alaska cat and heli skiing is to big mountain stoakaholics, Ascutney is to broomstick dodging East Coast tree fairies with an affinity for 15 foot waterfall drops. With the right amount of snow, there are enough big drops along any one creek to pucker a World Free-Tele Tour Championship caliber badass like me.

But that's not what most people are looking for when they roll into the town forest lot on a powder day. Especially the octogenarian leather booters and mohair skinning freeheelers we suited up with that day. But somehow we all ended up skiing out and back along almost the same line and in equal time. I spent a good portion of the day teaching the new-to-east-coast-BC skiing Ben Szekely the ins and outs of kick turning on a six foot wide 40 degree pitch. Not something you have to do a lot of above treeline. And Ben had a good laugh when I called our ascent at a nicely spaced open piece of "snow field" about 20 feet wide and 100 long.
Approaching through the schwak

Ben: "I LOVE that this is our SNOWFIELD!!"

Our ascent had taken us up the STAB trails to it's highest point above Buck Dancer and onto a trail we will call 'Red Dot.' We will call it Red Dot because it doesn't have a name and is marked by a series of red dots painted on the trees. You brighter BC ski bums will see the connection. Red Dot follows the other side of the Bicentennial Trail ridge, but functionally offers the same skiing we had encountered on our 2011 tour.

There are a few added bonuses to this ridge vs. Bicentennial Trail. First, no one will bother you because it's not really a trail. Second, you won't be lured down into any stunning hardwood glades only to be cliffed out by an impassible 50 foot drop or three with no return route. Win-win, and you dont die.

Red Dot is red dummy. Blue dot is Bicentennial (sort of)
I've marked the cliff area we encountered in yellow, along with a few wider areas (green) you should feel pretty comfortable leaving the safety of Red Dot to ski. Probably the best potential lies in actually leaving Red Dot in the softwoods near the hard skier's left switchback at the top, and crossing over the ridge into the Bicentenial Trail creek bed, dropping over the ridge and keeping the creek on skiers right.

I've added a rough approximation of Bicentenial Trail's route, so you get an idea of what I mean by "ski between this ridge and that ridge." We spied a lot of good features in this section on our 2011 tour, and Red Dot is definitely the easiest way to get into this section, unless you were to take Bicentennial all the way to the top and access the other side of the gully from above.

Brad: New school soon to be future old school 
All the while, as Brad, Ben and I were fiddlydinking around with skin glue failure, wardrobe malfunction, tree snakes, spruce pits, and more than a few botched kick turns, our leather booted brothers were having a hell of a day cutting up the fresh powder below us on the STAB trails. We could hear them hooting and hollering, and having what one of them later, down in the parking lot, referred to as a "Grand old time!"

Turns out old people are pretty much just like us. Except when they ski they use words like "Gadzooks!" where we'd use "Holy Shit!" and ride really far back in the cockpit.

They also don't do a lot of this kind of stuff all while holding a helmet cam on a stick. But you know they would, if they could. Which is what makes them a greater generation.

Enjoy some highlights form Ben's 2011/12 trip to Alaska to Cat ski Aleyska and the Chugatch Mountains. Who says NoreasterBC never has any STOKE??? Eat it Anonymous.


  1. "What Alaska cat and heli skiing is to big mountain stoakaholics, Ascutney is to broomstick dodging East Coast tree fairies with an affinity for 15 foot waterfall drops."

    Classic. That is the Ascutney we all know and love.

  2. I miss Ascutney. Its time I made my way back up there to earn some turns-- Thanks for the stoke and knowledge, that maybe someday when the stars/moons/and storms align I'd use.

    1. you don't meet nearly enough Wicken BC skiers. time for a blood sacrifice. we need more snow.

  3. I explored this area for the first time today. There is a Do Not Enter sign on a tree near the entrance to the Red Dot trail, just above the top of Buck Dancer. I followed the trail as far as I could until it disappeared, far below where it appears to end on the map. I also came across a rather creepy shack in a deep crevasse/creekbed near the bottom of the Red Dot.
    Bob G.