North Conway, NH – In any other year, overflowing parking lots in Pinkham Notch, NH would have been the norm in early spring. After all, when the lifts close, skiers and riders flock to Tuckerman Ravine, one of the most popular backcountry ski destinations in the East. However, this is not a typical year. Ski areas throughout the country are closed, and skiers and riders are flocking earlier and in greater numbers to the well-loved backcountry terrain in Tuckerman Ravine. With stay-at-home orders from New Hampshire Governor Sununu in response to the coronavirus pandemic, members of the U.S. Forest Service’s Mt Washington Avalanche Center were distressed over the weekend to see the number of cars overflowing in the parking areas in Pinkham Notch – the trail head for accessing Tuckerman Ravine. Thus, in an effort to address the inevitable crowds flowing into the popular Tuckerman Ravine area, the Cutler River Drainage Area - including the section extending from Lunch Rocks to the top of the Headwall, where it meets the Alpine Garden Trail - has been closed. The closure includes skiing and riding the Lip and Sluice too. The closure will continue until melt out. Essentially, this eliminates access to skiing and riding in the popular Tuckerman Ravine for the season.
According to an article on Snowbrains.com, 400 people came to Tuckerman Ravine on Saturday, March 28th, and 50-percent were from out-of-state. “Cars filled the parking lot at Pinkham Notch, lined the highway for several hundred yards with folks congregating in the lot, on the deck and driving together,” stated a member of the Mt Washington Avalanche Center in the story. The same representative continued saying, “Our medical advisor visited us to offer advice on our current state of affairs... Among other observations, he commented that odds were strong that asymptomatic carriers of COVID19 were among these visitors.”
In its final avalanche and mountain safety bulletin for 2019-2020 season, the US Forest Service’s (USAF) Mt Washington Avalanche Center stated, “NH Governor's Order Section 18 of Executive Order 2020-04, part 4 requests that the public limit non-essential travel and further defines essential businesses and activities. Travel and social congregation that have continued to occur in Tuckerman Ravine, nearby trails, and parking areas suggest that more aggressive measures are needed in order to comply with state and federal guidelines intended to reduce the spread and impact of coronavirus. The USFS and MWAC understand and support the need for outdoor recreation, fresh air and exercise but interpret the measures to limit the spread should exclude riskier activities, particularly at a highly popular venue which attracts visitors from around the region. Furthermore, high risk activities such as skiing and climbing in complex avalanche terrain with extreme weather conditions create an unnecessary risk of injury or a need for search and rescue intervention. These injuries could lead to rescues and the opportunity to further spread the virus through close contact. We also acknowledge that the absence of avalanche and mountain safety forecasts increases your risk in the backcountry, but since backcountry travel is not an essential need at this time of pandemic, you assume this increased risk. We will continue to support local rescue teams with spot forecasts on request.”
During the weekly Mt Washington Avalanche Center’s outreach podcast, it was clear from the number of voices in the background that a steady stream of backcountry skiers were making their way into Tuckerman Ravine. Discussions during this recording offered insight that measures had to be taken to curtail access to the popular skiing area in order to enforce social distancing according to not only experienced backcountry skiers, like Andrew Drummond of Ski The Whites, but also doctors in the vicinity speaking to representatives of the Mt Washington Avalanche Center.
“As the coronavirus pandemic evolves, stricter stay-in-place orders have progressed,” said Janice Crawford, Executive Director of the Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve gone from a hike in the woods being okay for travelers, to encouraging visitors to find close-to-home recreation. Mt Washington Valley businesses are open on a very limited basis, with reduced resources for visitors,” she stated. “However, once it’s safe again to travel to Mt Washington Valley, we will welcome travelers from around the world to come enjoy the fabulous outdoor recreation offerings we have here,” added Crawford.
Start planning that trip to Mt Washington Valley, NH and be ready to enjoy time in the mountains when it’s safe once again to travel. Go to www.MtWashingtonValley.org for complete trip planning resources or call 800-367-3364 (800 DO-SEE-NH) with travel questions in the Valley. To plan an upcoming trip to New Hampshire, go to www.VisitNH.gov. To learn more about the first annual White Mountain Outdoor Fest, go to www.WhiteMountainOutdoorFest.com .