The Crux Series - Mt. Washington with Andrew Drummond
THE CRUX SERIES
The Crux Series is a collection of interviews with climbers that have a wealth of knowledge about each of the peaks in our glasses. In support of the launch of our Mt. Washington collection in New Hampshire we connect with Andrew Drummond founder of Ski The Whites, which many consider to be the hub of modern backcountry skiing in the White Mountains.
Andrew’s experience with Mt. Washington is deep. He began skiing at Tuckerman Ravine young and had his sights set on skiing the headwall at nine years old, a goal he accomplished three years later. After a life of traveling as an environmental consultant he reset his focus on returning to New Hampshire to develop the backcountry skiing community in a more modern way and to spend more time in the mountains. His work as a founding board member of the Granite Backcountry Alliance, Ski The Whites and Run The Whites has brought a new generation of community to the backcountry in White Mountains. His core message is that you can follow your heart and build your work around what you love.
WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MT WASHINGTON?
I grew up making the pilgrimage to Tuckerman Ravine with my family every spring since I was really young. By nine years old I set my sights on skiing the headwall and I accomplished that goal by 12yrs old. That was a significant right of passage in the backcountry skiing world back then. As I grew up I fell out of love for skiing for a while and went searching for surf. From 2005 to 2014 I was in California and Baja to follow my love for surfing but after nearly 10 years of surf, I longed for the mountains. I’ve been fortunate to backcountry ski all over the world but my hometown and the backcountry skiing of New Hampshire was calling me. I knew the backcountry scene was under developed and was excited to see if I could help to bring it more life. My goal was to go back, explore and check everything out through the lens of modern backcountry skiing. I moved back to New Hampshire and in 2017 I was able to ski everything possible in and around Mt. Washington. I felt like it was my duty to share my experience and expertise with backcountry skiing in the White Mountains.
WHAT DRAWS YOU TO BACKCOUNTRY SKIING IN THE EAST?
Not only is it in my roots, I also really felt like the North East was so poorly represented in the modern world of backcountry skiing. You feel a chip on your shoulder about opening any ski magazine and almost exclusively seeing content from the west or international destinations and very little from the North East. The truth is that you can cut your teeth in the NE and ski anywhere in the world. - Side note - Read up on how Sophia Dannenberg took her North East rock and ice climbing experience and went on to climb Mt. Everest!
WHAT INSPIRED YOUR SHOP SKI THE WHITES?
Well, I went to Colby College in Maine and graduated as an Environmental Consultant. I moved to California and got a job as a Field Biologist in San Diego, it was a meca for that kind of work. It was very interesting but after a few years it was just another job. In my 20’s I felt a real desire to travel so I switched jobs to become a Marine Mammal Observer on oil exploration boats. I was enforcing the government's regulations and documenting the boat's efforts to align with those regulations. I was able to travel all over the world with that job. I was in West Africa several times, India, Vietnam, Gulf of Mexico - really anywhere there was an ocean. After doing that for a while I felt like I was indirectly working for the oil companies, which I didn’t like, and that’s when I decided to move back East. I started on some environmental projects in Maine when I got back East but I had the feeling like I had the opportunity to start my career over from scratch. So I did some soul searching and focused on what I wanted to do - which was spending more time in the mountains. Out of that came Ski the Whites.
Ski The Whites really started out of the back of my truck. I would rent gear out of my truck to friends and it began to grow from there. I put in the time over the years and people started to come to me for gear recommendations, for advice and even for photos and videos of the region. It was a slow build but it was what I wanted to be doing. It didn’t happen overnight and it’s still a work in progress but it’s exactly what I want to be doing.
Now it’s almost like a real shop! It’s still got a touch of dirtbag skier / runner to it but if you come here you’re going to get the honest truth on anything and we’re going to do our best to set up the best experience possible for any customer. That could be as simple as a kit for fitness laps at the resort or intel on what’s skiing good in the backcountry. It’s not as much about selling gear as it is letting people get the most enjoyment possible out of the White Mountains depending on what they’re looking to do.
The event side of things really makes our day. It’s so fun to host events that create the space for people to meet other people that love to have fun in the mountains. - Check out the 2017/18 recap to get a feel for the Ski The Whites experience.
HOW HAS THE BACKCOUNTRY SCENE EVOLVED IN YOUR EXPERIENCE?
There wasn’t much of a scene when I moved back here. Lots of people were exploring but everything was very guarded and there wasn’t much of a community around it. In 2016 I helped to start the Granite Backcountry Alliance to advance the sport of backcountry skiing in New Hampshire and Western Maine. Now we’ve created a group where everyone wants to share stories, say hi on the skin track and have an all around positive experience. We host glading events in the summer and fall and reap the rewards in the winter by skiing the new zones we’ve created with this amazing community.
DO YOU THINK THE CURRENT STATE OF THINGS WILL RESULT IN AN INFLUX OF NEW BACK COUNTRY ENTHUSIASTS?
Yes, backcountry skiing is in it’s perfect spot for growth. The gear is getting better, the resorts are crowded and expensive, there is more exposure. It’s really drawing in people from nordic skiing, downhill skiing, hiking, running. Granite Backcountry is helping to make more places available to enjoy the backcountry as the community grows.
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE DAY ON MT. WASHINGTON?
There’s a bunch. I’ve had some unique experiences storm skiing to skiing steep powder which is always amazing to get to do before it gets into an extreme avalanche hazard. There are few categories of best days. One is the special days with friends doing laps in Tuckermans where you’re seeing everyone you know and everyone is there for the same reason. That’s really the heritage of backcountry skiing at Mt. Washington.
The other is exploring new terrain. I had the opportunity to skin several miles into the Dry River Wilderness which is not very accessible in the winter. We spent a few nights camping back there and skiing by ourselves deep in these areas of designated wilderness. When you really work to get to a new zone you get the true feeling of exploration that gets lost when everything is sprayed all over the internet.
WHAT IS THE CRUX OF SKIING TUCKS?
Weather and Timing. Getting conditions that are consistent from top to bottom and semi predictable conditions. The weather changes so fast and so dramatically here. Every day and every hour it’s different. Once people are comfortable with their gear I advise them to connect with a guide to read their ability before heading too deep into the mountains.
Some days depending on conditions and weather Tuckerman can ski like a green circle and other days it can be the most intense and scary terrain of your life. One aspect can be terrifying and lead to downclimbing and on other aspects you can get into full on hero snow.
In the springtime it’s a bit of a circus, but that’s part of the fun. It’s quite a scene, but it’s worth it. You go up there knowing that there are going to be lots of people there and you’ll see a little bit of everything go down - from great lines to a few tumbles and lots of hooting and hollering. If you go into Tuckerman with those expectations you’re going to have a great time. - Check out this great recap of some headwall sends from back in 2008 - listen to that crowd!
It’s all about getting experience and being prepared to walk away if it’s not right. You have to go into skiing here prepared to have your expectations changed. You can never go into Mt. Washington thinking you know exactly what to expect. That’s exactly what gets you into trouble. If you’re going to ski the higher alpine stuff you may get complete white out conditions, -20º F and dangerous wind slabs or it could be a great day...you never know what weather you’ll get on Mt. Washington.
You also ski a lot of wind slabs and wind affected snow generally. The runs are short and steep, 1,000 ft runs. You can go to Alaska to get longer runs and some steeper shots but you get elements of that here. You can ski Tuckerman mid winter, which is essentially featureless and go one gully over to Huntington's Ravine and get into all of these defined chutes and interesting geologic features. It’s completely different but it’s right there. Wherever you go you’re running into the wind loaded slabs which is the notorious avalanche danger in the region. You’re always checking to see what slabs are stable and keeping a close eye on the danger. That’s the real crux of mid winter skiing Mt. Washington. - Watch Chris Davenport and Hugo Harrisson experience it first hand.
WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO START RUN THE WHITES?
Running allows you to travel further in the mountains in a given amount of time. It changes your perspective in the mountains as well. You realize that, under your own power, you can get multiple ridges away which is really empowering.
I had the opportunity to crew for Scott Jurek on his Appalachian Trail through hike speed record in 2015. I crewed him through the White Mountains and it left me wanting to see what I could accomplish myself. The following year I had my sights set on the White Mountain Direttissima and that was the catalyst to the whole endurace side of things.
There is a strong overlap between the summertime endurance trail and mountain running and backcountry skiing. You’re building this engine so that you can make the most of your time out there in the winter. I used to ski Tuckerman and get one run and be gassed, like most people, but now I’m at the mercy of the conditions and daylight and not as worried about the engine. The off season is just another way to be in the mountains, granted I’d much rather be skiing down. -Watch Andrew ski 9 runs at Tucks in one day to see the engine at work!
I try not to get too ahead of myself, so just living into this season with Ski The Whites and supporting the Granite Backcountry Alliance will be key. I do have an exciting project in the works called Beyond Tucks that will be in full swing this winter so stay tuned for that one.