The problem with trying to match a trip to a four year old’s skill level is it is always changing. Sometimes I get it right and some times I miss. This time I missed. Benoît joined us for the weekend, and he was game for anything. The Wednesday before, it just snowed a foot or more on top of a decent base.
The wildcat valley trail is a side country trail. You ride the chairlift up to the top of the Wildcat ski area and then ski 3 miles to the Jackson cross country trails. From there, the way the AMC always skis it, it’s another 5 miles out to the view at Halls Ledge and back to Dana Place on Rt 16. As we learned on the trip, there are other routes out. I thought with the lift ride up the hill and then varied downhill runs Isaac would like the trip. The last time Tyson and I had skied it was in 2011.
We all picked light weight backcountry cross country skis. It’s a compromise. At the top of the Wildcat Valley trail, the light gear puts you in survival skiing mode. But then on the kick and glide out to Dana Place, it’s the only suitable option. Benoît snapped a few pictures of Mt Washington at the top, enjoying the sunny morning. I explained “right at the top, the trail drops steeply and turns into the woods. I think it is to discourage folks who don’t know what they are doing. That’s the hardest pitch on the trail.” Usually, that first pitch is icy from people side slipping down it. I went first and found plenty of snow left. Isaac looked down the slope and shrank back. Tyson chaperoned him carefully side stepping down. Then Benoît zoomed down on his waxable skis and across into the woods.
So the good news was I had picked a trail that Benoît would enjoy, and the conditions were much better than last time Benoît came south and skied Cedar Brook with us. The bad news was Isaac. I hoped as we skied down the trail and the slopes moderated that he would get more confident. Unfortunately not. The farther we went, the bigger his feeling of “I can’t” grew until it consumed him. Tyson handled the situation better than I did. I was worried I had ruined the trip for Benoît. The one downside of all the steeper pitches at the top is once you’ve gone a half mile, you are pretty well committed to skiing all the way out.
We didn’t make it to Halls Ledge for lunch, in fact we didn’t even make it to the birch glades. We stopped in a small clearing between fir trees with the warm sun pouring down on us. As the afternoon progressed later, that warm sunlight would melt any snow it touched to mash potatoes. Lunch cheered Isaac up briefly and he started skiing better. Then he fell again and collapsed back into frustration. Tyson and I alternated coaching and coaxing Isaac along.
When we arrived at the birch glade, Benoît zoomed off enjoying fresh tracks. Some AT skiers passed us full tilt. The first part of the birch glade was still too steep for Isaac, but the second part, that all the AT skiers passed by and left untracked, is a mellow shallow grade. There Isaac tried stepping out of the previous skiers groves and made his own tracks meandering through the wide spaced birches. For the first time that day, I saw him smile.
Isaac’s mood was improving, but now we had a new problem, it was getting late, and Isaac wasn’t going to make the 4 miles out to Dana Place even if we skipped Halls Ledge. Tyson proposed splitting the group. He would ski out with Isaac to the closest road access at Prospect Farm and Benoît and I would hurry off to our car.
When we met the Jackson ski touring trails, we discovered they weren’t groomed. Skiers earlier in the day had carved parallel deep furrows the width of the trail. Now that Benoît and I were going full speed, we got to experience the challenging nature of the snow. The storm on Wednesday had dropped lots of powder, but with howling winds. Those winds blew it into a thick Styrofoam slab. Once my skis were in someone else’s track, it was hard to get out. Skiing untracked slow, I went slower, by my cross country skis could hardly turn. We took our fare share of falls on the way out, some of them accidental and some on purpose. I remember one T trail intersection in particular where, as I approached, I was thinking “What’s my plan?” I needed to figure out how to stop or turn. I scanned each nook of the intersection for some terrain feature I could use, but the trees kept wizzing by and I was still stuck at “What’s my plan?” Finally I entered the intersection, concluded “No plan,” and sat down in a spray of snow. Benoît sat down gracefully before entering the intersection.
We turned off onto Quail trail and then Dana Place trail. Almost all the traffic continued down the Wildcat Valley trail to Prospect Farm, only a few tracks headed out Quail Trail and they dwindled to one at Dana Place trail. The sun was slowly disappearing behind the trees, leaving the trail in shaddow. All the snow the sun had melted into mash potatoes now cooled and froze into a solid crust. Whomever had set the track in front of us had skied out while the snow was still soft. Their track had slumped and refrozen and now was too skinny for our skis and boots. Benoît tried skiing outside the track. He could almost float on top the crust, but then he would break through. I constantly broke through. I felt the jagged edges of the broken crust scraping against my boots. The sound of breaking and crashing crust was so loud we couldn’t hear anything. We settled on staying in the track with the first person essentially breaking trail. It made a better track for the second person than a completely fresh trail.
We had parked our car at the bottom of the Hutman trail because there was better parking than at Dana place. The map showed the Hutman trail taking a sharp left off an old prospect farm road right about where Dana Place takes a sharp right. Going along Quail trail and Dana Place trail, we saw consistent signs for Hutman’s trail. This was promising. Where Dana Place trail turned right, there was a clear sign indicating Hutman’s turned right too. We saw no intersection to turn left and we saw no more signs for Hutman’s trail. Oh well. Guess we would have a half mile road walk back to the car.
Meanwhile, Tyson and Isaac made good progress skiing out to Prospect Farm. Isaac cheered up on the wider and shallower Jackson trails. He started adventuring off the sides, up and down bumps, and really being Isaac again. They arrived at the road while we were still clattering through crust on the Dana Place trail. Tyson texted me their good news and I explained our predicament. So they caught a ride with some other skiers back to our car to come pick us up.
After the right hand turn off the farm road, the Dana Place trail descends, steeply at times. Benoît and I cautiously made our way down the icy hill side. Tyson and Isaac were waiting at the bottom with the Subaru by the time we arrived. To add a last bit of hilarity to the day, Benoît’s bindings had frozen shut. He had to untie his boots and walk to the car in stocking feet. Good thing we no longer needed to walk a half mile down the road.
In summary, the Wildcat Valley trail is steep, regardless of how I remember it. There is parking at the end of Prospect Farm road. The straight through route to that parking is quite suitable as an intermediate telemark or alpine touring trip.