One of my goals for this winter is to get off groomed cross-country ski trails and to start skiing the free backcountry ski trails in the White Mountain National Forest. I started cross-country skiing last winter again after a 40 year hiatus and have a pretty good grasp of the basics. But I’ve found that skiing on unmanaged trails, with their natural ups and downs, has helped accelerate my skill development. It’s also a lot of fun and a lot more adventuresome.
My first foray into the backcountry side of cross-country skiing took place on the Oliverian-Downes Brook Ski Trail near Mt Potash and Mt Hedgehog. Located near the eastern end of the Kancamgus Highway, the trail links the Oliverian and Downes Brook Trail heads (these are hiking trails) and has an additional east and west loop that utilize old logging roads. Most of the trail is flat, with a gentle grade on the logging road segments. Parts of the ski trail follow the hiking trails before branching off on their own. There are few hills where climbing on skis is required but it’s relatively short and minor. My advice would be to ski the east and west loops clockwise in order to minimize the climbs and maximize the length of the downhill runs.
After hiking a nearby peak, I put on my cross-country boots and skis and headed down the Oliverian-Downes Brook trail into the forest. It’s been a few years since I hiked the Oliverian and Downes Brook Trails, which run from Mt Passaconaway north down to Rt 112, alongside beautiful streams. I caught glimpses of them from the ski trail and made a mental note to come back next summer and do a little fishing along their banks.
The trail was mostly flat as I headed east, skiing over the portion of the trail that is shared with hikers. I slid easily along, branching off down a narrow spruce lined path where the trails separated. The trail wasn’t broken out, but my skis slid effortlessly over the cold snow.
After one easy stream crossing, I came to the western junction of the east loop, but continued past it so I could ski the loop clockwise. This turned out to be the best way around the loop, which had one steep climb, followed by a long downhill run back down to the western junction. I practiced my snowplows skiing down it, forcing my heels wide to take off some of my speed. It’s very different doing this on an ungroomed trail vs a groomed trail where your skis are locked into pre-existing tracks.
Back at the main trail, I headed west again to link back up with the west loop. The west loop is much shorter than the east loop, but it also has a nice downhill run if you ski it clockwise. There’s one tricky part on the western loop when the trail intersects a logging road. While not blazed well, you should turn right and follow the road. It eventually passes a junction with the Mt Potash Trail before arriving back at the western parking lot.
Round Trip Distance 5.00 miles