Picture a time when die-hard skiers, hungry
for the freshest powder and best terrain, cut their own trails
up the mountains. Taking a lift wasn't an option: there weren't
any back then. This was the 1930's, and skiing was reserved for
those with ample amounts of passion, sweat, and imagination.
But almost as suddenly as "walk-up"
skiing was burgeoning in popularity, something happened: lifts
began popping up throughout the northern peaks. The original
trails and even entire mountains were often abandoned, left to
lie dormant for decades.
Today, backcountry skiers and snowboarders
can take a journey through a time tunnel to a bygone era. The
powder troves of yesteryear have magically risen again. Here
is one sampler of what today's time travelers can find.
In the early 1930's, skiers looked up longingly at the flanks
of 4,100 ft. Cannon Mountain. Their awe was understandable: Cannon's
southeastern face drops off precipitously in a mile-wide cliff
that has long challenged rock and ice climbers.
The first Cannon skiers pinned their hopes
on the western side of the mountain, where they believed the
snow fell deepest and held longest. Led by the late Sel Hannah,
a former Dartmouth and Olympic ski team member who became a pioneering
ski area designer, local skiers banded together in the early
1930's. They cut the Tucker Brook Trail and the Coppermine Trail
down the western flanks of Cannon.
The Coppermine and Tucker Brook Trails were
audacious propositions in their day. From the summit of Cannon
Mountain, these trails descended nearly 3,000 vertical feet in
four miles. True to predictions, the trails were reliable stashes
of powder, and were loaded with sharp turns to challenge and
interest skiers. The most famous part of the descent was the
13 Turns-the fast switchbacks that had to be negotiated right
at the start of the run. These trails had everything going for
them-except for one detail. They ended up on the wrong side of
In 1933, the Richard Taft Trail was cut on
the north face of Cannon. This fast, steep, wide, Class A race
trail set a new standard for down-mountain descents, and it was
an instant hit with the Boston-area ski clubs. The state of New
Hampshire decided in the late 1930's to build an aerial tramway
that would serve the Taft and its sister trails. The tramway
from Franconia Notch to the summit of Cannon-the first aerial
tramway in the U.S. and a remarkable feat of engineering-opened
in June 1938 on the north face. Tucker Brook and Coppermine were
The Tucker Brook Trail retained a small loyal
following of local skiers over the ensuing years. The enduring
attraction of Tucker Brook, as Sel Hannah once told me, was that
"it was very fun, it didn't get too much traffic, and it
was like old-fashioned skiing: powder snow, no packing, no grooming."
Many things have changed on Cannon since those
early days. The Coppermine Trail is now a hiking path that ends
at Bridalveil Falls. Mittersill Ski Area, which used to connect
with Cannon via the Richard Taft Trail, has been abandoned; its
empty trails and rusting lift towers are now an ungroomed powder
haunt for Cannon locals. Most of the Richard Taft Trail was lost
when Mittersill closed.
But Tucker Brook lives on. It is now an unpatrolled
backcountry ski trail that is informally maintained. Its upper
section incorporates the start of the Richard Taft Trail and
the old Coppermine Trail, and its lower section is part of the
cross-country ski trail network of the Franconia Inn. The run
is frequented by the die-hard community of powder seekers who
come in search of the rough-edged ski experience of days gone
To reach the top of the Tucker Brook Trail,
you must take a lift to the summit of Cannon Mountain (the cheap
and energetic set can, of course, ski up the Tucker Brook Trail
for free). The summit can be reached via the Cannon Mountain
Ski Area Aerial Tramway, or by the Peabody and Cannonball Express
From the top of the tramway or the Cannonball
Express lift, ski down the Taft Slalom. At the bottom of a long
straightaway, pass a Cannon Mountain Ski Area boundary sign.
This was the route of the original Richard Taft Trail. You will
soon be climbing uphill a short distance on a wide, well-traveled
path; you will likely be joined by other skiers and snowboarders.
The trail brings you to the top of a small knoll (this is 3,810-foot
Mount Mittersill, according to one map), from which there are
fine views to the south of the wild Kinsman Ridge and the Cannon
The start of the Tucker Brook Trail is intentionally
discreet. From the top of the Mount Mittersill knoll, continue
slowly down the ski trail looking for an opening on the left.
A narrow pipeline entrance quickly gives way to a 15-foot-wide
ski trail. There is no time for warming up: You immediately plunge
into the legendary 13 Turns (count them-they're all there). With
a pitch of 28 degrees, double fall-line traverses, and rapid
direction changes, you will either be on your toes or on your
butt. It is a fun, energetic opening act. Don't blow it out too
hard at the top, because there are many turns yet to come.
The Tucker Brook Trail changes character dramatically
in its lower section. In the final 2.2 miles, the trail widens
to about 25 feet, and the grade eases back to 20 to 24 degrees.
There is room for wide, sweeping turns. By the time you reach
the bottom, you should have a good case of turn-cranking thigh
The Tucker Brook Trail is surprisingly well
traveled. The full spectrum of glisse devotees, from telemarkers,
to alpine skiers, to snowboarders, pay their respects here. I
have skied it several times when the 13 Turns were covered by
moguls. Thanks to its relatively easy access and its great terrain,
you would be lucky-or you rose very early-to claim first tracks.
When you reach the bottom, you will have a full appreciation
for why this trail has lured so many for so long.
For up-to-date maps and detailed route descriptions,
see the new guidebook, Backcountry Skiing Adventures: Classic
Ski and Snowboard Tours in Maine and New Hampshire, by David
Goodman, published by Appalachian Mountain Club Books.
CANNON MOUNTAIN: Tucker Brook Trail
DISTANCE: 3 miles, plus 1 mile from Cannon
summit to top of Tucker Brook
VERTICAL DROP: 2,820 feet
MAPS: USGS Franconia (1989)
HOW TO GET THERE: The top of the Tucker Brook Trail is reached
from the Cannon Mountain Ski Area (see trail directions in article).
You must shuttle a car to the finish: From the tramway parking
lot, drive to Parkway Exit 3, Route 18 north. Turn left onto
NH 18, and after 2.2 miles, turn left onto Wells Road. Bear left
at a stop sign, and after 1.4 miles, Tucker Brook Road (no sign)
enters from the left. Park on the side of Wells Road, taking
care not to block traffic. Tucker Brook Trail comes out where
Tucker Brook Road dead-ends, 0.4 mile from Wells Road junction.
About David Goodman:
Globetrotting writer and skier David Goodman is a contributing
editor for SKI Magazine and Backcountry. He is
the author of Backcountry
Skiing Adventures: Classic Ski and Snowboard Tours in Maine and
New Hampshire, published by Appalachian Mountain Club Books.
He is currently at work on a companion guideback to backcountry
skiing in Vermont and the Adirondacks. He lives in Vermont.
Editors Note: Copyright 2000 by David
Goodman, permission to publish the above graciously extended
by the author to this website. Thanks David!
Or use the drop down menu at the top