Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Trip Report- Magalloway Mountain, Part I: "The Dream"

The dull brownish grey of the deer blended seamlessly with the salty sand covered snow bank in the fading light of dusk.  As our truck rounded the corner, the two deer ambled across the center line and into our lane.  Gered slammed on the brakes and slowed just  in time to allow them to leap harmlessly into the woods.  But as we crossed their path I spied a third set of eyes peering over the snow bank with a look that said only, “Hey! Wait for me guys!” Justin was not far behind us with a truck bed full of snowmobile and hurrying to catch up.  I knew what was going to happen next.

To be a lawyer is to be constantly reminded of the axiom, “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.”  Despite our shortcomings, misfortunes and disappointments we continue to dream and sometimes even dare to dream big.  Let me tell you about one of the big ones.

It was 2010 and I was in the backcountry ski purgatory known as December.  A few on-piste resort days and ski movie premieres had my backcountry ski mojo wound tighter than a matchbox suspension spring.  But as every backcountry skier knows, our season doesn’t start until January.  So instead of running around in the woods I was dreaming- and dreaming big- of backcountry ski locales.  As I hungrily scoured the satellite map on Google Earth, I poured over the majestic notches that separate far northern New Hampshire from the rest of civilization.  I was looking for slides, clearcuts or other spots that might make for a good spot to earn some turns. 

I saw this dude wandering around Lancaster once.
My search drifted northward, past the 45th parallel and into far northern New Hampshire.   Like most folks, I’ve only rarely ventured more than a dozen miles into the northern hinterlands beyond the notches.  Even for a guy who grew up in northern Vermont, they are a wild and mysterious place.

It was there that I spotted a large scree field almost hidden by the shadow of the mountain above it.  It resembled a miniature Cannon Cliff: the unmistakable landmark that greets drivers as they travel through Franconia Notch on 93.  Like Cannon, this spot had an immense pile of talus reaching down into the trees below.   Unlike Cannon, it lacked the huge cliffs which turn a scree field into a giant game of “dodge the car sized chunks of ice and rock” on a warm spring day.

The northeast facing aspect meant that it would gather snow from westerly winds as well as be shielded from the late afternoon sun.  It would likely hold snow longer than any of the surrounding terrain, and because of its location so far north, it would be skiable earlier and longer than the notches to the south.

I grew even more optimistic after applying Google Earth’s slope measuring tool and discovered that the bowl was extremely steep, but not unskiably so.  It also appeared that a road came within a couple of miles of the bowl.  To top it all off, I noticed on the satellite photo, taken in early autumn, that the tree canopy below the slope had the unmistakable flash of color from hardwoods.  The exit to the bowl appeared to be a giant glade run.  Magalloway Mountain was looking more and more like backcountry skiing perfection. 
Check out all that color on the right.

Inexplicably, I couldn’t find any information or history of others who had skied its wide bowl.  I began to think that there must be something I was missing. 

I discovered that while Magalloway was a virtual unknown to the backcountry ski community, it is the “Tuckermans” of the snowmobile community: its steep slopes drawing those looking to prove their mettle by side-hilling and running their sleds as far up the slope as they can.  The thought of dozens of snowmobiles running around the mountain while I'm trying to find my backcountry "moment of zen" was not encouraging.  

I also discovered that the road running close to Magalloway was closed in the winter.  It would be a very long nine mile trek from the nearest trailhead.  That meant a six hour marathon of slogging back and forth, just to reach the slide, much less ski it more than once.

Despite these drawbacks, I was still eager to check it out.  Then I saw a video posted by a snowmobiler that sent my stoke off the charts.

The grainy video confirmed the existence of spacious glades below the bowl and an expansive and steep slope.

Magalloway was on my radar.  But there it would have to wait for more than two years.

To be continued…

(Read Part II Here)


  1. Hey there Andy,
    Glad to see that you are enjoying the natural beauty and backcountry access that rura northern New Hampshire has to offer. Being that your crew are guests in the communities and individuala that struggle to maintain said access, I would recommend that you not include content in your post that portray locals in a derogatory light...even if you are just "poking fun". The old timer farmer that you see in these rural town are the very same folks who are refusing millions of dollars from energy developers so that the terrain that you come here to recreate in remains public, beatiful and pristine.

    1. I'm not sure where we might have offended in that piece, but I agree it is important to take a moment and appreciate the work of others who have fought to preserve public lands. I do also have to say, however, given that 3/4 of the NEBC crew are Vermonters born and bred (including myself), we claim our birthright to poke a little good natured fun at our New Hampshire brothers and sisters from time to time. Think of it as the price paid for Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys letting you folks keep your land when he liberated us Vermonters. (okay... ease down.. I'm just kidding.. Sort of...)

      In all seriousness though.... this trip wouldn't have come about without the help and generosity of some folks from the other side of the Connecticut River. Thanks again to the Garneau family and all their help.