The stick season is here. It is that calm, gray and blue moment between the bright colors of autumn and the deep snow of winter when the trees are bare – apart from the golden hues of some beech and tamarack. And his arrival means a couple of things: the start of the deer season, better views and a signal for the skiers among us that it is time to optimize their touring equipment.
Those planning to head into the backcountry this winter will be delighted to know that Vermont skier and author David Goodman is very soon to release the latest edition of the Eastern Backcountry Bible, better known as the official Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast “: 50 classic ski and snowboard tours in New England and New York. “
This fourth edition of the book, due out November 27th and marking the 30th anniversary of its first publication, is also on time. Those in the know expect many new and old arrivals this year to skip the ski resorts in favor of deep forest and off the beaten path adventures as we all try to figure out how to safely recover during a pandemic. In fact, equipment stores like OGE in Burlington and Onion River Outdoors in Montpelier are reporting spikes in back country sales of skis and equipment this year.
Goodman’s new book features colorful descriptions and topographical maps of the best ski tours in the region. He’s done the hard work separating the good from the bad by riding them all in person with some trusted backcountry partners.
“The backstory of a book like this is that a lot of the things you do suck and don’t make it into the book,” Goodman says with a laugh. He takes seriously the responsibility of selecting the best tours and giving the best directions, knowing that many readers in Boston or New York get in their cars and head to Vermont to go to a place he claims that he is very special.
“I do all the hard work so you don’t have to,” he explains how to get the details right.
Goodman says he found skiing in the backcountry, as so many people do when they discover a new activity – “to keep up with a woman”. He recalls an early date with his romantic interest who is now his wife and is at the forefront of the outer limits at the Killington Resort. (If you’re not familiar, it’s a classic and challenging New England Mughal run with ice and bumps.) She was a seasoned skier; he was new to the sport; and he watched as his beautiful date arched wonderfully and danced down the slope with ease.
With the confidence of a freshman who hadn’t been humiliated for the first time, Goodman stormed right after her, thinking his skiing would look just like hers. But about three turns later, he tripped and landed hard in a pile of tangled limbs and skis. His glasses and sticks were blown off on impact and scattered across the mountain. His ego stayed somewhere near the top. His date graciously stepped around the mountain and retrieved his belongings. Although his ego was harder to recover, it has been a love affair since then – with both the woman and the skier.
Goodman spent his 20s traveling the Northeast, living in his car and “losing his mind” and the Appalachian Mountain Club approached him to write the first edition of their 1990 guide. Since then, he has updated it every 10 years, including this year’s new edition. Just two weeks before the book was published, I had a phone call with him about backcountry skiing and his new book. Below you will find some excerpts from our conversation, which have been edited for the sake of clarity and brevity.
Sarah Galbraith: How did you become the author of this travel guide?
David Goodman: I was a climber and backpacker, history buff, and aspiring freelance writer. I had written one of my first stories for a magazine, called Northeastern Renaissance, about the revival of cross-country skiing in the northeast, and the Appalachian Mountain Club called me and asked me to write this book.
There had been an initial heyday in the 1930s before chairlifts reached the highest peaks in the northeast. Back then, the AMC-sponsored Civilian Conservation Corps cut ski slopes into the mountains (examples include the Tear Drop and Bruce trails on Mount Mansfield). It was called “walk-up skiing” or “skiing”. Many of these trails were cut, tended, and enjoyed by locals who, as the photos show, were equal parts men and women. As a journalist, I loved talking to the people who built, maintained and drove these trails. I spoke to many of them in the last few years before they died, so I’ve captured some of the last living stories from that time.
I also enjoyed finding people who got bored of what happened to skiing. These were people who liked to travel all over the mountain in search of wild snow. For me, writing the book brought together the desire to keep exploring the highest mountains, which I enjoy doing as a mountaineer.
SG: Are you concerned about the growing number of newcomers in the hinterland?
DG: First of all, there has never been a better time to start off-road skiing. But it is important to remember that there is no ski patrol. If you think your cell phone is your first aid kit, backup plan, and insurance policy, you will quickly find that your phone is not working. In addition to buying equipment, new ski tourers have to invest in training. You have to learn about the equipment, but also about navigation in the hinterland, how to get dressed, basic knowledge of mountain travel and above all about avalanche safety. Skiers have a trajectory into steeper terrain and avalanches occur in the northeast. All laws of gravity apply in the northeast. I recommend avalanche.org for state-by-state listing of resources. The Appalachian Mountain Club and Adirondack Mountain Club both sponsor workshops on winter mountain skills that include avalanche safety, and some northeastern guide services also offer training.
SG: What’s new about this latest edition of your book?
DG: Everything has changed, nothing about these ski tours has stayed the same over the years. And although the title says 50 tours, there are a lot more than 50 in the book.
The exciting news is how much great new terrain has opened up and how much the face of skiing has changed. One thing about this issue is that I was able to record what I call Community Supported Skiing. Groups like the Rochester / Randolph Area Sports Trail Alliance and the Northeast Kingdom Backcountry Coalition (in Vermont) as well as the Granite Backcountry Alliance (in New Hampshire), which cut so many new trails that I can’t even keep up with them, are closing these groups completely backcountry skiing in the 1930s.
David Goodman’s new book, “Best Ski Touring in the Northeast: 50 Classic Ski and Snowboard Tours in New England and New York” (Appalachian Mountain Club Books, US $ 21.95) is out November 27th.