April 4, 2017
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As we emerged from the snow encrusted towers, we broke through to achieve our goal: the summit of Vermont’s tallest mountain, Mount Mansfield standing 4,393 feet above sea level. Our next step was to ski a double black diamond backcountry ski trail called the Teardrop. This is the sport of Alpine Touring.
Alpine Touring is term used in relation to backcountry skiing meaning the use of skis similar to alpine skis, and bindings that unlatch at the heel to provide a walking gait, but latch down at the heel to provide a fixed heel for alpine skiing. Alpine touring bindings turn traditional skis into cross country skis as you telemark up the mountain while still allowing you to ski down normally. A key piece of equipment that is also necessary for alpine touring are climbing skins, high friction fabric that adheres to the bottom of your skis providing additional grip.
The Teardrop leads off the of the nose of the Mount Mansfield. While traveling on the 3.6 mile trail, the elevation changes by 2,234 feet. The skiing on the tear drop trail is very technical. The trail in no wider than 20 feet, and at some points the trees are barely shoulder width apart. The trees are packed so close they predetermine the way the trail must be skied; one minor mistake could result in a major injury. As I know a little too well (due to an accident earlier this season on Mount Snow where I collided with a tree and broke my left arm) catching an edge or skiing through debris can quickly ruin a fun day of skiing.
Matt Weston, Matt Walsh and me were standing atop Vermont’s highest mountain about to “drop in” (preparing for descent). We had hiked three hours up in order to ski down in less than thirty minutes. A pit of doubt began to form in my stomach, and the memory of breaking my arm lurked over me like a dark cloud. Was I technical skilled enough to ski what I was about to attempt?
Is all of the effort and energy to ski for thirty minutes worth it? At a traditional ski resort, you do not appreciate skiing as much because so little effort is necessary to ascend the mountain. While alpine touring, however, the experience is much more raw because of all the hard work you put forth to ski a single run. Taking our last turn and end up at the side of Walsh’s car, ending our adventure exactly where it began.