Featured Image: Lincoln Benedict
On October 27th, five tired men gathered at the base of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington and slid boldly into their ski gear. No one else was around—maybe because the Red Sox and Dodgers were in the 18th inning of a historic World Series game that glued most New Englanders to their couches. Or maybe because it was 3 a.m., and only maniacs ascend Mount Washington at 3 a.m. on October 27th.
Perhaps “maniacs” is a pretty strong describer for this East Coast quintet, comprised of Aaron Rice, Blake Keogh, Forrest Frizzell, Lincoln Benedict and Ryan Gibbs. More than anything, they’re just passionate purveyors of unique outdoor opportunities, including this particular mission to ski Washington. The appeal was clear: in the month of October alone, nearly 50 inches of snow had been recorded on New England’s tallest peak, which soars 6,288 feet high in the Presidential Range. This was the snowiest October on record since 2005, the bizarre year Washington was blanketed with 78.9 inches. And when such excessive snowfall appears for the first time in 13 years, you don’t watch baseball. You go skiing.
Still trying to wrap my head around what just happened!! Squeezed in the run of a lifetime! Under a nearly full moon, with a red sunrise in the distance, on amazing chalky snow top to bottom on left gully! And all on October 27th, at 6am (I think the Sox were still playing!) W/ a stacked crew of skiers, I had never met who warmly welcomed me! @oldbathroad @forrestfrizzell @blakekeogh and @powdergibbs #skitheeast #mountwashington #george #bestfirstday @mwacenter #tuckermanravine #leftgully #fullsend #wheresthealanscoffeebrandy? @ortovox #voiceofthemountains @julboeyewearna @dpsskis #dpsambassador @dissentlabs #criticalcomfort @dynafit @skitheeast
“There’s a wonderful expectation among ourselves that, when the snow falls or when the surf’s up or when the river’s restocked, we’re going to go,” says Keogh, who’s a Portland, Maine-based teacher Monday through Friday. “There’s this onset agreement, in a sense, that we’re going to keep each other amped and get out there as often as ‘real life’ will allow.”
Keogh, Frizzell, Benedict, and Gibbs have adventured together for years. Rice, on the other hand, a Montpelier, Vermont-based environmental scientist, was a newcomer to this tight-knit crew. He heard about the plans to ski Washington through mutual friends and squeezed in at the last minute. While adding a fifth person wasn’t necessarily ideal, Rice was warmly welcomed. He’s a skilled backcountry skier and world record holder for the most human-powered skiing in one calendar year: over 2.5 million vertical feet. (For scale, that’s the equivalent of ascending and descending Stowe 1,059.3 times without a single lift ride.)
“Even though we didn’t know Aaron, we knew him by proxy and his impressive skiing resume,” says Keogh. “So we have to be careful with our group size, but we weren’t going to ignore the vast amount of experience he has. It was a really good vibe once everything was underway. Watching Aaron double-check that everyone’s beacons were on, for example, and pausing to have thoughtful conversations provided further evidence that a bigger-than-usual group was totally fine for this mission.”
That 3 a.m. start had the group atop Washington and peering down Tuckerman Ravine before 6 o’clock in the morning. It was still dark out, yet the skies were clear and a bright moon shed light upon Left Gully, the crew’s first objective. As the sun began to rise ever-so-slightly, each skier dropped in, one by one.
“That first run was a top-ten memorable run of my life,” says Rice. “Not a top-ten powder run, of course, but a top-ten experience run. It was just so crazy. Being up there so early and witnessing dead-calm winds—like five-mile-an-hour winds—is totally unheard of on Washington and the snow was really nice and chalky.”
Left Gully skied so well that everyone circled back to the top for another go. Then, they shimmied over to another line, The Chute, for a few laps, which was a bit more rugged snow-wise but solid for October, nonetheless. Keogh and Rice say that, thanks to Washington’s world-famous winds—the top wind for October was clocked at 119 miles per hour, which pales in comparison to the 231-mile-per-hour record from 1934—a lot of snow has blown into these favorable lines, resulting in a base as deep as 10 feet in certain places. Not bad for October in New Hampshire. Not bad at all.
Later that morning in New England, the only thing anyone talked about was baseball. You simply couldn’t avoid the conversation. But the purveyors of Washington’s October spoils were just getting down to the parking lot and sliding back out of their gear. They had no idea what happened at Dodger Stadium. They had no idea the game went 18 record-breaking innings. They had no idea the Red Sox lost. They didn’t care.
And, for what it’s worth, the Sox won the World Series anyways.