The phrase “hiking the Appalachian Trail” instantly conjures an iconic experience. But what about “skiing the Appalachian Trail?” You don’t hear that much, do you?
Take it from me—“skiing the Appalachian Trail” is a passion for backcountry ski fans up and down the East Coast. That's especially true today as the latest storm dumps more snow on the AT from North Carolina to New England. See for yourself—view the video below.
Case in point—a deep powder ski trip on the AT I took just last weekend on Roan Mountain, not far from the outdoor ski town of Boone, North Carolina. At just two feet lower in elevation than 6,288-foot Mount Washington in New Hampshire—snowy Roan symbolizes the precious, and precocius, recreation resource we know as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Watch the short video below for an eye-opening AT ski tour on "the Roan."
Legendary Roan Mountain is a botanically renowned summit, but its lofty elevation also creates a truly northern climate deep in Dixie. The winding, exciting route of the AT on Roan is nothing less than the South’s—and one of the East’s—classic cross country ski tours.
Piled Deep Up High
The highest Deep South summits (nearly 7,000 feet) receive more snow than Buffalo, New York—but it comes and goes—so you have to grab it when you can. I did that last weekend as 5 days of snowfall created great conditions and carried cross country into March. In New England, an even better snow pack could have AT skiers happy till April!
North or South, the AT isn’t always flat and Nordic-ski friendly, at least for beginners, but there are very forgiving sections such as Roan Mountain, not to mention an AT cabin/shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (see the video above for more). The AT in Shenandoah National Park is another nice ski spot—currently heading toward two feet of new snow! So is Mount Rogers in Virginia.
If you’re as good on skis as many of today’s backcountry skiers, there’s a twelve-mile stretch of the AT adjacent to Roan Mountain, from Round Bald to Hump Mountain, that’s known for spectacular, alpine-like expanses called “balds." Out there, true mountaineering challenges abound for skiers and hikers.
Backcountry Skiing: Front and Center
All over the nation, heavier duty backcountry Nordic skis and alpine touring gear are finding their way into pretty hairy places—with at times deadly results. A backcountry skier was killed last week in an avalanche in Grand Teton National Park.
The AT ramps that down a lot. True there’s some astoundingly alpine and avalanche prone terrain in New England, from the summits of the Presidential Range, NH to the backcountry of Mount Katahdin, ME—but the AT experience is often much more mellow—and not to be missed.
Last weekend, I found myself telemarking through powder-filled spruce glades and meadows. I was in North Carolina, but the experience kept reminding me of floating through my favorite gladed powder stash at Alta Ski Area in Utah (I won't tell). Granted, no alpine peaks overhead, but an internationally known unit of the National Park Service was delivering world-class winter recreation east of the Rockies.
Roan is an outpost of “Nordic Nirvana,” as I called it in my first book, Southern Snow: The Winter Guide to Dixie, and I am privileged that’s it’s less than an hour from my own back yard. Whether or not you live near the AT, winter is a not-to-be missed time on the world's best-known trail.