Ah springtime. Sugarhouses billowing with steam from boiling maple syrup. Birds chirping in their nests. Hungry bears destroying your compost box.
Rivers and brooks rushing with water. And for skiers, late snowstorms and sweet corn snow.
Spring skiing is the grand finale of the ski season. Touring through a bright white landscape beneath an indigo sky on a sunny April day is the reward for the long dark days of winter. Variable midwinter conditions give way to corn snow—the big, wet carpet of ball bearings on which to carve hero turns. Avalanche danger steadily diminishes, enabling relatively safe travel on the steep backcountry routes on the highest mountains of the Northeast.
To find the best spring skiing, follow the sun and snow. Tours at higher elevations that are north facing last the longest. Then tune into the corn cycle. A slope that is frozen in the early morning can soften perfectly for skiing a few hours later depending on its aspect and when the sun hits it. Work with the sun, move as it moves, and harvest corn just as it softens. The window for perfect corn may only last for a few hours on a given run. Time it right and you can ski a soft magic carpet as epic as a great powder run.
Below are some of my favorite early spring tours in the Northeast. For more detailed route descriptions and many other tours, see the 30th anniversary edition of Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast: 50 Classic Ski and Snowboard Tours in New England and New York (AMC Books, 2020,
STEEPLE TRAIL, Stowe, Vermont
Mention “Stowe” and “steeple,” and most people assume you are referring to the stately Stowe Community Church that has stood watch over the town since 1863. But for skiers, the Steeple they have long sought is a sinewy, powdery trail high in the Ranch Valley that faces due north. This is one of Vermont’s earliest backcountry ski trails, and now a beautifully restored gem. The Steeple Trail was cut by volunteers in 1937 at the same time as the Perry Merrill Trail, which is still in use today as an alpine ski trail within Stowe Mountain Resort. The Steeple, along with the Bruce Trail, started directly from the Ranch Camp, a rustic cabin used as a base for adventuring by Mount Mansfield’s earliest ski bums.
The Steeple can be skied in sections: the Upper Steeple is the steepest section that requires a stiff climb to reach the top. The Lower Steeple is a popular intermediate run that is more easily accessed. The Steeple lies within an extensive network of backcountry ski trails that includes the Skytop Trail, Dewey and Burt Trails, and Bruce Trail, all of which are worth skiing and can be accessed via the cross-country ski centers of Trapp Family Lodge and Stowe Mountain Resort (the latter offers the most direct access). Trail passes must be purchased at the cross-country center where you begin.
BRANDON GAP, Goshen, Vermont
Brandon Gap has quickly established itself as one of Vermont’s most popular backcountry ski destinations. It consists of four north-facing glade zones at two trailheads spread out over three miles of the Long Trail. Braided ski lines stripe the north facing mountainside allowing for multiple laps through beautiful glades. This is one of the best examples of community-supported skiing in the Northeast. Located off VT 73 in the Green Mountain National Forest, this is a story of “if you build it, they will come.”
In 2016, hundreds of volunteers organized by the Rochester/Randolph Area Sports Trails Alliance (RASTA), in partnership with the Green Mountain National Forest, created the first official backcountry ski glades on National Forest in the country. The rest is history: skiers now flock to Brandon Gap (which means that parking fills early on weekends).
For steeps and thrills, I like the 1,300 vertical foot descents through steep old-growth birch glades in Bear Brook Bowl. For more gentle outings, I enjoy the 500-foot descents on mellower terrain in Sunrise Bowl. No Name Backcountry and Goshen Mountain round out the ski offerings at Brandon Gap.
Notice what’s all around you while skinning and skiing in this national forest. Look for signs of moose and deer and take in views of the rounded summits of Breadloaf Wilderness to the north, a favorite haunt of poet Robert Frost. Detailed route descriptions and maps can be found at rastavt.org.
Baldface Mountain, Chatham, New Hampshire
South and North Baldface have long lured a small cadre of White Mountain skiers to its high alpine setting. Thanks to the volunteers of Granite Backcountry Alliance, which received permission from the White Mountain National Forest to cut glades on the east side of South Baldface in 2018, Baldface is quickly becoming a classic tour.
Baldface owes both its treeless summit and its name to a fire that swept the top of the mountain in 1903. Those white slopes are a beacon that lure skiers upward. From the parking lot on NH 113 in North Chatham, New Hampshire, the Baldface Circle Trail departs across the road about 60 yards north of the parking lot. Ski on a flat, winding trail for 0.9 miles before turning sharply left onto the Slippery Brook Trail. This hiking trail, which is blazed yellow and also sports blue plastic GBA markers, is the ascent route. Climb steadily for 2.6 miles until you reach an intersection with the Baldface Knob Trail, where you turn right.
For those who prefer to ski lower-angle glades, blue GBA markers on your right indicate the entrance to glades shortly after the Baldface Knob trail junction. If you want to continue up to the treeless alpine zone, follow the trail as it twists and climbs steeply for about a half-mile (many people boot up this section) until finally emerging from the trees onto Baldface Knob.
A breathtaking White Mountain vista erupts all around you on Baldface Knob (3,029 feet). Wildcat Mountain and the Carter–Moriah Ridge frame the skyline. Beneath you, the Wild River Wilderness forms an uninterrupted dark green carpet. The white summit of Mount Washington resembles a searchlight illuminating the surrounding peaks.
From Baldface Knob, the South Baldface summit (3,576 feet) is just a half-mile away. On a clear day, the scenery on the climb and descent of South Baldface makes this a worthwhile side trip. The skiing on the summit is on moderate angle slopes, but this alpine zone is exposed to the full force of the weather. If conditions are not favorable, it is best to limit your skiing to below treeline, where there is plenty to explore.
The best ski action lies below Baldface Knob. The glades directly below the knob, including Corner Store and Emerald Pool, plunge downhill steeply through the trees. After some running traverses, you enter the long, continuous Cold River Glades. You can weave turns of all styles here, threading around the trees. The final 1.5 miles provide fast and fun eastern trail skiing on the Baldface Circle Trail, which leads back to the parking lot.
Gulf of Slides, Mount Washington Region, Pinkham Notch, NH
Gulf of Slides is a wild, beautiful, and lightly traveled wilderness ravine with great steep skiing. A bonus is that you access it via Gulf of Slides Ski Trail, a historic trail cut by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s that links the ravine with Pinkham Notch, the busy backcountry headquarters of the Appalachian Mountain Club. The serpentine ski trail is a fine tour on its own, and a worthy consolation prize in bad weather or if avalanche hazard is too high in the gullies of the Gulf.
Gulf of Slides is a wide ravine between ridges that run off Boott Spur (5,502 feet) and Slide Peak (4,806 feet). It holds some of the latest snow in the Whites outside of Tuckerman Ravine, with skiing usually continuing into May.
A first reaction on seeing the slides and the snowfield is one of amazement: the wide, open bowl skiing and steep alpine runs more closely resemble the Colorado backcountry. Climbing high up the slides, skiers are treated to panoramic views up and down the valley. There is a wild, untamed quality about the place. It is rewarding just to come here and take in the breathtaking landscape. Skiing the gullies adds to the thrill.
Main Gully is the broad, fan-shaped gully that climbs 1,000 feet in a direct line to the ridge. Skiing 40-degree gully offers up excellent big mountain skiing and spectacular views over the Presidential Range. To looker’s left is Sandbox, a lower angle snowfield, and several other gullies lie to the right. This big menu of skiable terrain is the reward for your adventure into this less traveled playground.
Gulf of Slides is an active avalanche zone. As with all steep ravines around Mount Washington, bring avalanche beacon, shovel and probes and be sure to check the daily avalanche forecast at mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org.
MOUNT MARCY, Lake Placid, New York
The ski tour to the summit of Mount Marcy, New York’s highest peak, is a classic Eastern backcountry ski adventure. The frosted summit cone holds snow long into the spring. The reward for the 7-mile ascent is the sweeping summit views and the turn-packed descent. You follow the serpentine Von Hoevenberg Trail as it snakes, jogs, drops, and rolls down the mountain. The trail has a personality and a sense of humor, continually surprising you around each bend. Some of the finest skiing and riding is in April, when warm weather and corn snow make both the climb and descent memorable.
Mount Marcy has had a singular pull on mountaineers and skiers for the past two centuries. The first recorded ascent of the mountain was on August 5, 1837, by a party led by Ebenezer Emmons, a chemistry professor at Williams College who headed a section of the Geological Survey of New York. Emmons named the peak in honor of Governor William Learned Marcy. The mountain also bears the Seneca name Tahawus, which supposedly means “cloud splitter,” although some sources indicate that Native Americans did not use this name.
The descent is a rich multicourse offering of treats. The summit cone brims with secret shots and hidden ravines where you can search for powder or corn on your way down. You can retrace your climbing tracks (recommended if visibility is waning) and swing down through a beautiful steep bowl. The north face (to skier’s left of the trail) offers a number of long lines, but you must take care to traverse back to the right at the bottom in order to rejoin the Van Hoevenberg Trail.
There is a rollicking drop-and-roll rhythm to skiing the Van Hoevenberg Trail, with frequent runouts that appear magically—and just when you need them. The thrill of a Mount Marcy tour lies in its variety: it calls on the full range of ski skills, from skating the flats, to climbing uphill, to negotiating an exposed summit, to linking quick turns and skiing powder, corn, ice, crud, or whatever surprises the mountain has in store.
Vermont journalist David Goodman is author of Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast: 50 Classic Ski and Snowboard Tours in New England and New York (AMC Books, 2020).