Wilderness: White Mountains National Forrest, NH
Distance: 6 Miles, Round Trip
Duration: 4.5 hrs
Difficulty: Moderate / Advanced
Skills: Snowboarding, Snowshoeing, Avalanche Saftey, Cold Weather Awareness
Location: 44.246177°, -71.282019°
Get There: The Gulf of Slides ski trail can be accessed from the southern end of the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center parking lot. The Visitor Center serves as a starting point to many Mt. Washington mountaineering destinations including Tuckerman Ravine. For this reason, the lot can fill up quickly. Many visitors will park directly off 16 despite the no parking signs.
From the parking lot look for trail markers for the John Sherbourne or Avalanche Brook ski trail. You will ultimately take the Avalanche Brook ski trail for 0.2 miles before the Gulf of Slides ski trail diverges to the right. The Gulf of Slides ski trail will maintain a sustained 2.5 mile climb before arriving at the bowl.
Report: When moving to New England I quickly realized that the creation of a bucket list was a must, on the top of said list was exploring the region’s extensive backcountry ski trail systems. After hours of research; pouring over trail reviews, weather predictions and avalanche reports the maiden voyage was set to be Gulf of Slides, located South East of Mt. Washington.
This lesser known neighbor of the infamous Tuckerman Ravine promised awe-inspiring views, and a combination of steep bowl riding followed by a technical 3 mile ride out on the classic ski trail originally establish in 1935. This combination proved to be as memorable as anticipated leaving me salivating for what remains to be discovered.
The 3,500 ft hike was more challenging than expected, with MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes strapped to my boots and board securely fastened to my Patagonia Snow Drifter 40L I started the 2hr plus ascent to the base of the bowl.
Although temperatures were in the upper 20s, I quickly de-layered to better cope with the incredible cloudless skies and non-existent wind. Struggling to keep up with a few backcountry skiers skinning their way up had me longing for a split board system (recommendations welcome).
Once you arrive at the first rescue cache you’re close, by the second cache your hit with the sobering reminder of what can go wrong. The backcountry is inherently dangerous and in honor of two skiers who were taken by the mountain, the second cashe has a wooden plaque where the following stands as a tribute to their legacy.
Men and Mountains Meet
“Have I not walked without an upward look
Of caution under stars that very well
Might not have missed me when they shot and fell?
It was a risk I had to take — and took”
Always analyze the risk and be aware of the environment. During the hike in I took the time to speak to multiple skiers who confirmed the avalanche danger matched the conditions posted online and at Pinkham, Low Danger. With this, I continued on. After clearing the final cache and the woods open up to a bowl that makes the 2 hours of climbing worth every step.
The thoughts of big open lines beckoning to be ridden were quickly interrupted by a true New Hampshire resident, moose. A mama moose and her cub were the welcoming committee to the Gulf of Slides, completing the full New Hampshire trinity of Technical Terrain, Powder and Moose. From speaking with other backcountry skiers this moose and her cub had been recent regulars at the slides. One skier said the Moose had charged her the previous weekend while she was making her approach further down the trail. This day the local “grounds keeper” and daughter seemed to be in much better spirits.
The bootpack up the slides was a memorable experience in itself. With my snowshoes, I quickly blazed an ascent parallel to the established bootpacked manual escalator. One step at a time the squeaky sound of the compressed wind blown powder distracted me from the rapid elevation gain up the 35º – 40º face.
After a certain point, there was a clear change in snow consistency, where a wind blown ice layer became overwhelmingly dominant. Deciding this would be my snowshoe stopping point, I began gearing up to start the 3-mile snowboard down to the Pinkham parking lot. After a cup of coffee and some deep breaths, I dropped in for the first intimidatingly icy turns.
The ride out tested skills and stamina, whereby the bottom my quads were jelly from miles of tight curves in varying snow conditions. The taste of whites backcountry left me salivating for more. Recent storms have brought late season snow to the region and I’m hoping to get in one more weekend before the snowshoes are traded in for hiking boots. Regardless, I will be returning to the Pinkham Notch area as soon as possible.