A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Ski Plane Skiing

February 28, 2021
Emilie Phillips

Tyson loves using our planes to get to an adventure. Ever since mounting the skis on the Bearhawk this winter, he’s been eyeing the unplowed Gorham airport and the adjacent Bill Hill skiing glade.

The upside of flying to the Whites is we don’t have to get up at 5:30AM. The downside is the weather has to cooperate. The forecast looked like one weather system would move out of the Whites around 9AM Sunday. Then another one would move in to southern NH at 4PM. We half packed the night before, unsure whether to commit or not. Then in the morning, we checked the weather again and found that the window between the two systems had widened. We could leave the house as soon as we finished packing.

Tyson and Isaac leaving the airplane

I flew the northbound leg. I could see most of the way across the state, but it was kind of gray and not good for photos. Just to be safe, we stayed out of the mountains and stopped at Bethel for gas. The Gorham airport isn’t maintained in the winter. I approached it cautiously. I circled it once and identified the yellow cones marking the edge of the runway. The snow was shiny with patches of matte. Yesterday’s storm was a nor’easter that ended in rain. Another reason we didn’t get an early start. We wanted that rain crust to soften before going skiing. When I landed, the Bearhawk crunched right through the crust and stopped easily.

Tyson and Isaac climbing up the skin track

After parking the Bearhawk, we swapped boots, doffed our thick jackets, shouldered our packs, and skinned across the snowmobile trail and up to Bill Hill Glade. If you look at our track, you will see that we started up the wrong mountain bike trail and then bushwhacked west to the correct trail. At first, Isaac was sure that Dad had put the wrong wax on his skis or skins. They were sticking terribly. He was breaking through the crust. I didn’t see any other problem with his skis. The snow surface was a rough styrofoam that dragged some. Then I realized he was expecting his fast gliding cross country skis. Once he realigned his expectations with reality, we made good progress up the skin track. We arrived at the top by lunch time. On the skin up we heard another airplane land and wondered who it might be.

The Bill Hill Glade is maintained by the Granite Backcountry Alliance. The access trails are shared with the Coos Cycling Club, but the main glade is skiers only. Here is the GBA Bill Hill page with a detailed description. The uphill route was easy to follow. We found two well marked downhill start zones. The GBA map shows four zones. We couldn’t find the other two.


The first trip down was rough. Maybe it was the icy surface. Maybe we were out of practice Telemark skiing. Or maybe, as mentioned in the original glade proposal page, it was the tight spacing between trees. At the bottom, Isaac laid in the snow instead of helping transition to uphill mode. “I took a class once,” I told Isaac, “where the instructor emphasized that you loose the most time on a skiing trip to slow transitions.” Then Isaac became more engaged. Tyson showed him how to put his own skins on. Isaac led the way back up for a second lap.

Isaac ready for the second lap

The second lap went better for me. The snow was definitely softening as the temps rose into the 40s. Tyson had more issues with his edges catching in the mixed density snow. And Isaac, he zipped ahead, occasionally pausing long enough to tell the rest of us to hurry up. I was reminded of a certain eight year old nicknamed “Mademoiselle on y va”. Isaac’s enthusiasm carried him straight through a fast switch over and back up the hill.

Annoyingly, the little wire that holds my Meidjo binding in tour mode loosened up. Tour mode, is a special mode in AT and active Telemark bindings, that lets you freely pivot at the toe. It makes it easier to climb uphill. After a few steps, my binding was slipping back into ski mode, restraining my heel. I have always been dubious of that little loop of wire. I much prefer the solid click of my 22 Designs Axls. I found that if I used my heel lifters, I could keep the wire loop under tension. That sufficed to get me through the second two laps. Back at home, Tyson reshaped the wire so it works again. But I’m still more than a little suspicious of it.

We finished our third fun lap and headed down to the airplane. A friend said they heard a rumor the Gorham airport might get shut down. That would be too bad because this was a fun trip. And there’s other good hiking nearby. I’d be curious if anyone knows more details.

Unknown plane, our Bearhawk, Isaac, and Tyson

The other airplane that we heard land was parked next to ours. It was a Canadian airplane. The registration number starts with a “C”. The registration says the plane is based in Calgary, Alberta. Their cross country ski tracks started at their plane and headed west. I wonder what brought them to Gorham.

View of Mt Washington from the east: Tuckerman Ravine, Raymond Cataract, Huntingon Ravine.

Tyson flew home. The weather was fine, so we flew direct through Pinkham Notch. I was in charge of getting photos of each of the ravines. Tuckermans has snow. Hillmans might be low. Gulf of Slides south snowfields still look bushy. The primary runs in Oakes look good.

Then we continued on across the Pemigewasset noting all the white slides. The back side of the Franconia ridge looks good. The problem is how to get there. Mount Osceola had several skiable looking slides and gullies. One of them starts not far from the Greeley Ponds ski trail. That got me thinking.

All Photos

GPS Tracks

The android Open Street Maps app just released an update that’s causing us issues with elevation.

Flying up


Flying back