3-30-20 Pinkham Notch

The Tuckerman Ravine Trail sign next to the pack weight scale behind the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center is pictured Monday. (JAMIE GEMMITI PHOTO)

PINKHAM NOTCH — In any other year, overflowing parking lots in Pinkham Notch, 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 Gov. Chris 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 meltout. 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 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 said: “Our medical adviser 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 2019-20 season, the 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.”

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.

Friends of Tuckerman Ravine earlier this month canceled its planned 20th anniversary Tuckerman Inferno Pentathlon that was slated for April 11 out of similar concerns.

“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 OK 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 said. “However, once it’s safe again to travel to Mount Washington Valley, we will welcome travelers from around the world to come enjoy the fabulous outdoor recreation offerings we have here,” added Crawford.

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(1) comment

Dagger64

Its about time to limit movement, Go to the store and bank and gas is fine and even Doc's and pharmacy. LOCALLY. If you drive up from any where you should sent home where its safe for you and me. I wont put you at risk and you wont do it to me. But alas if I have money and you dont, Ill do what I want.

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