Mid Winter Season Check-in

I hope you have all been having a great winter so far. For me the early season ice climbing was great with a couple Black Dike ascents getting it off to a good start.

ice climbing black dike cannon cliff
Early season ascent of The Black Dike, Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon

Then we got 82 inches of snow in December followed by another foot the first week of January and it appeared we were about to enjoy an epic snow year. Then between January 11th-13th we received 3 inches of rain and lost over two feet of our snow-pack.

avalanche courses new hampshire
January 10th. Green is over 2 feet of snow
avalanche courses new hampshire
January 14th after 3 inches of rain

A highlight of this event was a massive wet slab avalanche that was larger than one recently retired Snow Ranger saw in his 10+ years of service there! Standing out on the debris with students two days after the slide one could not help but be impressed by the power of Mother Nature. It made regional news headlines and I saw quite a few people trek up to the floor of the ravine just to get a first hand look at it!

avalanche course tuckerman ravine mount washington
Students of an AIARE 1 course checkout the scale of the massive wet slab avalanche that occurred around 1/14/18- photo by Cait Bourgault

January failed to recover our snow-pack finishing the month with a total of only 29 inches (12 of which were washed away during that rain event). That is less snow in January in more than 10 years!

While it seemed a bit devastating the bright side was we started seeing ice form in strange places and ephemeral routes like Gandolf the Great and Hard Rane came in FAT!

Ice climbing Frankenstein Cliffs
Benny Allen follows me on a rarely fat Gandolf The Great- Photo by Ben Lieberman

All this ice was great for the 25th annual Ice Fest and despite a burly cold first day of the event folks seemed to have a great three days at the event.

Avalanche Courses

We’ve been having another great year for our avalanche courses with 6 AIARE 1 courses behind us, an Avalanche Rescue course, and an AIARE 2 course that just ended yesterday (with ski conditions that signaled ski season is definitely back!)

avalanche course tuckerman ravine mount washington
Making snow-pack observations during an AIARE 1 Course- photo by Alexandra Roberts

We only have one more AIARE 1 Course that isn’t sold out

NEW: March 3-5

One more Avalanche Rescue Course:

March 16

One more AIARE 2 Course:

March 17-19

Here’s some footage showing our last day of our AIARE 2 course which should get you stoked for the rest of the ski season!


If you do book any of these courses be sure to use “DavidNEM” in the promo/notes box to be entered into a drawing for a free guided adventure.

Gear Reviews

I have been testing a ton of great new gear this season from companies like Petzl, Sterling, Black Diamond, Kailas, Arcteryx, DPS, Dynafit, and many more. Expect to see a lot of new gear reviews posting in March and April as I find time to give these products honest and detailed reviews.

ice climbing Cathedral Ledge
Testing the Kailas Entheos II Ice Tools and clothing- photo by Peter Brandon

Looks like another nice dumping of snow (totals up to 14″) is coming Wednesday so I’m really looking forward to this weekends avalanche course! Hope you get out and enjoy the snow and thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

First Avalanche Course of the Season!

This weekend we conducted our first AIARE Avalanche Course of the season and it was so lit! Seriously we couldn’t have hoped for better weather and conditions! Combine that with our NEW classroom space at Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center and we had a fantastic 3 days! Here’s a quick recap!


After a morning of classroom we headed outside where a perfect terrain feature provided a realistic avalanche rescue demo for our 13 students.


After another morning of engaging classroom discussions we were out the door just after lunch to conduct our “Observational Outing” in a shallow yet dynamic snow early season snow pack. After wrapping up class we got to drive back through the notch in quite the snow squall! Here’s some short clips from my Instagram story that afternoon!


For our final day we met at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and the students, armed with recently acquired knowledge, dove into trip planning sessions to plan our tour. By 8:45 am we were skinning up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to put to use everything we had talked about the previous two days. The following photos are all courtesy of Alexandra Roberts.

AIARE Avalanche Course
AM Student Led Trip Planning Session
AIARE Avalanche Course
Writing down the plan helps avoid some heuristic traps
AIARE Avalanche Course
Heading right into winter on Mount Washington’s Tuckerman Ravine Trail
AIARE Avalanche Course
Quick break and observations at Hermit Lake
AIARE Avalanche Course
Discussing route options
AIARE Avalanche Course
Hands on learning about snow stability
AIARE Avalanche Course
Upper Sherburne ski trail was in pretty good shape!

Back at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center we reviewed our ski tour and debriefed the course before parting ways. By all accounts the first avalanche course of the season was a huge success. A big thanks to the 13 students who made it a great course by asking great questions and staying motivated through-out! Hope to see you all out there practicing your new skills!

Thinking of signing up for an avalanche course this winter?

Some of our courses have already sold out and many are close!

course dates

Course price includes two nights of lodging at The Bunkhouse!

You can book here, and use promo code “DavidNEM” to be entered to win a free guided trip of your choosing!

Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course and hello Spring!

The last weekend of winter provided one of the most spectacular 3 days of higher summits weather I have ever seen in March! Blue skis and almost non-existent wind led to some really enjoyable ski touring on Mount Washington during our second-to-last American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) course.

Day One

We kicked off the course on Friday with some lively classroom sessions and small group exercises.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Benny discusses identifying avalanche terrain on day 1.
AIARE Avalanche Course
Small groups learn vicariously while discussing a local case study

Day Two

We met early to learn some advanced trip planning skills using CalTopo.com and the Avenza App. The Higher Summits Forecast called for southeast winds around 10-15 mph so we planned a tour on the west side of Mount Washington.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Powerful trip planning software that is 100% free!
AIARE Avalanche Course
Adjusting layers while skinning up the Cog
AIARE Avalanche Course
Small pockets of 2-3 mm Surface Hoar were found on sheltered north aspects above Waumbek Tank but below tree line
AIARE Avalanche Course
Benny demonstrates some snow pit observations near Jacob’s Ladder
AIARE Avalanche Course
Some cool wind effect and cornices nearby
AIARE Avalanche Course
We contoured around the rim of Ammonoosuc Ravine until we could drop the main gully or “Center Ammo”.

We concluded our tour with a debrief at the trail-head before calling it a day.

Day Three

AIARE Avalanche Course
Student led trip-planning session at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
AIARE Avalanche Course
Skinning up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail
AIARE Avalanche Course
Hermit Lake Snow Study Plot
AIARE Avalanche Course
Skinning up between Lobster Claw Gully and Right Gully
AIARE Avalanche Course
Snow-pack Observations

Avalanche danger was LOW and we had plenty of time to spare so we booted up Lobster Claw and traversed over to the top of Right Gully.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Ready to boot up Lobster Claw
AIARE Avalanche Course
AIARE Avalanche Course
Sherika after descending from pit location
AIARE Avalanche Course
300 pound block of ice came from somewhere

Some video of our descent:

AIARE Avalanche Course
All smiles after a good run!

We wrapped up the course back in the pack room with discussions about continuing to learn about traveling in the back-country. It was a real pleasure having each of you in this course. Thank you all for staying engaged and contributing through out our three days!

Tomorrow, and beyond!

Only one more avalanche course next weekend after a Mountain Skills Course tomorrow and Washington Climb on Thursday. It might seem like the winter season is winding down a little but we are set up for a fantastic Spring ski season! The warm rock climbing can wait this year… I still have a lot of skiing goals to accomplish including reviewing some new ski mountaineering gear from CAMP/Cassin, Ortovox, Petzl, and DPS. Expect a lot of gear reviews to be landing April/May after I get back from Iceland.

Yup, Iceland!  Been awhile since I’ve been out of country so I am SUPER amp’d about this upcoming trip.

Want to try backcountry skiing?

Maybe you just bought a setup or still need to rent a touring package (a few places in town rent touring gear). Maybe you’d like to avoid the maddening crowds in Tuckerman Ravine and check out some new to you terrain ? Consider learning about the joys of back-country skiing with me. The snow-pack we have in the alpine right now combined with more stable Spring weather is a GREAT time to book a back-country ski day!

You can read a bit about the program here but reach out to me directly at nealpinestart@gmail.com to check on available dates before trying to book!

Did you get out this weekend? Whatcha do? Let me know in the comments below!

Well thanks for reading, and welcome Spring!

See you in the mountains!

Outdoor Apps Reviews Part 2 (Snow Safety Apps)

A couple weeks ago I kicked off this seasons weekly gear reviews with Outdoor Apps Review Part 1, where we looked at three of my most used outdoor apps; ViewRanger GPS (USA)MyRadar, and PeakFinder Earth. While those apps covered navigation & weather, for Part 2 of this series I’d like to focus on snow safety apps. Check them out below and if I’m missing a must have app please let me know in the comments below so I can check it out!

  1. Theodolite – $3.99

“Theodolite is a multi-function augmented reality app that combines a compass, GPS, map, photo/movie camera, rangefinder, and two-axis inclinometer into one indispensable app. Theodolite overlays real time information about position, altitude, bearing, range, and inclination on the iPhone’s live camera image, like an electronic viewfinder.” – developer’s website

I use this app mostly in the winter while teaching avalanche courses and ski touring in the back-country. You can look down a slope or gully and get accurate information on aspect, elevation, and angle, three critical components to terrain selection when managing avalanche risk.

Check out this short video showcasing its features.

2. Mammut Safety App Free!

I usually suggest to my students on the first day of an avalanche course to download this free App, finally available on Android as well as iOS. It is packed with functionality but I use it most often for its quick and simple clinometer. Check out the other cool features here (and brush up on your German):

3. ULLR’s Mobile Avalanche Safety Tools $9.99

There are a few different “observation & recording” snow science type apps out there. This is definitely one of my favorite for its comprehensive scope and intuitive design. It is however an advanced app requiring a strong foundation in snow science and avalanche phenomenon to really be utilized. To put it bluntly, if you have never taken a formal avalanche course or had an amazing mentor this app may be a bit too much. Seek qualified instruction!

Ullr's Mobile Avalanche Safety Tools
Automatic graphing of snow pack observations and instant aspect/angle/incline measurements using iPhone’s camera, GPS, and gyro-meter.

So there are three apps to check out for this upcoming winter season. I’ve used them all on an iPhone 5s but will be switching soon to the iPhone 6s Plus, and I’d be lying if I’m not a bit giddy about all that screen space for navigation focused apps. I’ll also be testing a Thule phone case to protect that beauty from the type of abuse I expect it to take. Who knew Thule makes phone cases?

I have some other snow focused apps I’ll mention in Part 3 of this series. In the meantime let me know what apps you rely on in the winter in the comments below!


AIARE 2 Avalanche Course

Yesterday wrapped up the 2nd AIARE 2 Avalanche Course of the season. Six Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing Guides, 3 from North Conway, 2 from The Gunks, and 1 from our Lake Placid location spent the last four days furthering their understanding of the avalanche phenomenon by improving their weather and snow-pack observation skills along with their rescue skills.

After reviewing AIARE 1 information we spend the rest of our first day upgrading our rescue skills with focuses on deep burials, multiple burials, close proximity burials, and rescue leadership. The deep burial scenario required a full effort from everyone as our “debris” had set up like concrete and our target was a life size stuffed Gore-tex full suit!

Digging through 2 meters of concrete
Digging through 2 meters of concrete
It took another 20 minutes of hard work to excavate the victim after reaching the "airway".
It took another 20 minutes of hard work to excavate the victim after reaching the “airway”.
One of our multiple burial scenarios unfolding...
One of our multiple burial scenarios unfolding…

Searching in Parallel, Micro-strip Search, Pro’s and Con’s of Marking, and Triage were all topics of that afternoon.

The next day was a heavy classroom day with lots of discussion on Mountain Weather, Online Resources, Metamorphism, and recording observations at the national standard in accordance with the “SWAG”.

We spent the 3rd morning covering the “how’s and why’s” of doing a Full Profile.

Mike Lackman was shadowing the course and offers up some advice during grain identification
Mike Lackman was shadowing the course and offers up some advice during grain identification

Despite increasing Spring like weather the snow pack was not iso-thermal, and a very distinct layer of 3-4mm advanced facets about 50cm down made for some impressive CT & ECT scores. (CT12 & 18, Q2 and ECTP 14)

My Full Profile
My Full Profile

From there we went on a short tour up to just above tree-line via the Cog.

Stopping for Chicken Fingers and a quick Weather Observation at Waumbek Tank
Stopping for Chicken Fingers and a quick Weather Observation at Waumbek Tank
Mike searches for the deeper faceted layer in a small pocket just to the right of Jacob's Ladder
Mike searches for the deeper faceted layer in a small pocket just to the right of Jacob’s Ladder
Gaining our high point with the incoming warm front right on our heels
Gaining our high point with the incoming warm front right on our heels

After some poking around in the snow and previewing terrain in the Ammonoosuc Ravine we descending the Cog in fairly good conditions. Right before the base the snow that had started falling around noon turned to rain and we wrapped up our day back at the Highland Center.

For the last day of the course we met at Pinkham Notch and planned a tour into Tuckerman Ravine. We zipped up to Hermit lake in short order and had a quick birthday celebration for Ryan before updating our travel plans.

Good skiing that requires very heads up attention!
Good skiing that requires very heads up attention!

We skinned up a very stable Little Headwall and gathered at the floor of the ravine to make a plan. Our climbers headed up into Lobster Claw and our skiers moved across and up into Left Gully.

Dustin and crew crossing the run out and starting the boot pack up climbers right side of Left Gully.
Dustin and crew crossing the run out and starting the boot pack up climbers right side of Left Gully.

With lots of probing and hand-shears we worked our way up below the ice fall to the left of Left Gully and after a brief group discussion decided we could push higher up to the “choke” of the gully.

We could see our other group just to the right of the mouth of Lobster Claw making observations
We could see our other group just to the right of the mouth of Lobster Claw making observations
Looking down the run I use the "Theodolite" iPhone App to capture some slope info
Looking down the run I use the “Theodolite” iPhone App to capture some slope info (Location/Altitude not reported as phone was on Airplane mode to conserve battery; i.e. No GPS Data)
Looking up into the start zone I capture incline and aspect (180 math needed)
Looking up into the start zone I capture incline and aspect (180 math needed)

Just below the choke we get some fairly positive hand shear results but the slab that is failing is quite thin, only about 20-25 cms or so. Two of our group wish to push a bit higher, which seemed reasonable, so the rest of us de-skinned and spotted their last 100 foot climb to just above the choke. From here we all descended, one-at-a-time at first, then with good spacing down below. Turns were pretty soft in most spots with occasional sections of hard scoured surface. The flat light made it a bit tricky to really let it rip.

Pretty decent turns and quite a few groups were appreciated the boot pack we had put in. It was a bit disconcerting to see so many without backpacks on... Where is your shovel & probe?
Pretty decent turns and quite a few groups were appreciated the boot pack we had put in. It was a bit disconcerting to see so many without backpacks on… Where is your shovel & probe? It is still winter up there.

We gathered at the floor then descended Little Headwall to the Cutler River. The Upper Cutler was great. One of our group had skied the Lower Cutler (below the bridge) a week prior and the majority vote was to continue down it. It was the first I had skied below the bridge so with a smidgen of hesitation I followed the group down. I can’t say it was great skiing, a bit to heavy mashed potatoes made for a few of those “must turn now” moments. One actively collapsing snow bridge with quite a bit of water right at the end made me glad to be exiting out along the Huntington Ravine trail to cut back over to the John Sherburne Ski Trail. I would suggest bailing at the bridge for the rest of the season… unless you are into that type of stuff!

Our run out...
Our run out…

The rest of the Sherbi skied great though the warm snow was a bit slow as we got to the bottom. No complaints though, all it all a great run!

Back at the parking lot we spent almost an hour and a half debriefing the day and the course in general. Feedback on the course was solicited and shared, and an honest look at what’s next was provided by recent AIARE 3 Graduate Keith Moon. Many of our guides are on tracks for AMGA certifications that will require an AIARE 3 Certificate, so links & suggestions for future learning were provided.

This was a really fun course for me. Getting to work each day with many co-workers who I don’t often cross paths with was a great boon. I feel like I know each of them quite a bit better. Their feedback will definitely help the AIARE 2 courses I lead next year improve. And despite a bit of rain the weather through out the course was fantastic. While I have the rest of the weekend off I’ll be heading back up the hill on Monday, and again on Friday. Then a short vacation before our first ever Mount Washington Observatory AIARE 1 Course!

Then, and only then, will I let myself start focusing on the upcoming rock season. Winter ain’t over till it’s over!

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course 12/19-12/21

Yesterday concluded our first AIARE 1 Avalanche Course of the season and conditions were great for such an early season course! Two EMS Schools New Paltz, NY guides and one of our North Conway guides joined 8 other aspirant back-country travelers to learn about decision making and risk management in avalanche terrain.

Beacon Range Check at the AMC Highland Center
Examining some Surface Hoar while on our Observational Outing
Do you know how this is formed and why it is important in relation to avalanche safety?
Team Orange conducts a trip planning session in the pack room of Pinkham Notch Visitor Center the morning of the tour day
Team Black & Blue checks the updated avalanche bulletin
Successfully skinning up from Hermit Lake into Tuckerman Ravine
The skier group converses at the first aid cache before entering consequential terrain to make sure they are all still on the same page and to update their observations
Team Orange is high up in the Sluice below the cliff band, you may need to zoom in to spot them
Team Black & Blue spreads out while crossing the lower center bowl
Team Orange visible just to the left of Right Gully while we make our way over towards The Chute
All smiles during our run down the Sherburne Ski Trail at the end of the day
My field notes from Day 3...
My field notes from Day 3… I wish I had better handwriting skillz

What a treat it was to be able to skin all the way into the bowl so early in the season. The Sherbi was in pretty “fast” conditions and is definitely, as I noted in my book, in need of some love. Unfortunately Santa must have thought skiers where a pretty naughty bunch this year as he’s having his friend Mother Nature deliver us a hefty dose of our least favorite precipitation, rain. Personally I would prefer coal but what can you do. Let’s hope to bring in the New Year with some copious amounts of new snow!

To the 11 engaged participants of this first avalanche course of the season, thank you for making this a fun and productive 3 days. See you in the mountains!

Mount Washington Avalanche Center issues first General Advisory’s

The Mount Washington Avalanche Center issued it’s initial General Advisory for the 2014/15 season a few days ago on December 6th. The current Winter Storm Warning has prompted an update today. Monday also saw the first reported human triggered avalanche of the season;

“A climber was descending Yale Gully when he triggered a small avalanche below him. He later triggered another small pocket at the top of the fan which took him off his feet.” -MWAC

Here is a shot one of the USFS Rangers took last Friday of Yale:

Yale Gully- photo courtesy of MWAC
Yale Gully- photo courtesy of MWAC

Not much snow up there right? Early season snow packs can be deceiving. The final words of an avalanche bulletin, even a general advisory, can carry some important clues;

“Don’t let the lack of a danger rating lull you into complacency. Traveling through small snowfields can put you into or underneath unstable snow, and all of these pockets are going to be subjected to additional load over the course of the next few days.”- Jeff Lane, Snow Ranger

UPDATE 12/10/14: Please see additional information from this incident with a first hand account of what happened here.

Have you put fresh batteries in your beacon yet? Now is a great time to get outside with you partners and run through some rescue drills. Remember it’s the people you tour with that will give you the best chance of surviving a mistake!

Also, if you have procrastinated signing up for an avalanche course you might want to do so today. Out of 7 scheduled courses we are already sold out of seats for 4. That leaves only 3 courses to chose from and it is not even Christmas yet! Go here to find out more and sign up!

See you on the mountain,


First Avalanche Course of the Season, and first Avalanche Accident

It’s a somber coincidence that during the first day of this season’s Eastern Mountain Sports Schools Avalanche Course season we would have our first avalanche accident of the season occur on Mount Washington. Hours after finishing our first day of mixed classroom and companion rescue field sessions a Mountain Rescue Service call-out informed me there had been two people caught in an avalanche in Tuckerman Ravine. Over the next couple of days details would emerge as to what happened. Much has already been covered by the mainstream media. Some of that coverage can be found here:





While I originally wanted to blog about how this first avalanche course went, I can’t stop thinking about this accident (and the likely future accidents this season) and want to spend my efforts addressing a couple of issues I struggle with.

How can we, as a climbing community, raise the collective bar as to what is responsible travel in the mountains?

This is not a new issue. Mount Washington has a long (perhaps the longest) history in the US of being under-estimated and deadly. Read the book “Not Without Peril” if you are interested in some of the more illustrious stories of mishaps on the mountain.

It would be tough to argue that any other mountain sees more un-skilled travelers on a yearly basis with little “mountain sense”. Some of the reasons for this are obvious; it’s relatively low elevation and accessibility to a huge portion of the US population. Other reasons are more subtle. It’s clear that hikers/climbers push on in adverse conditions when they would not on any other mountain, instead relying on the closed summit buildings and weather observers, and the closed auto road, to provide a margin of safety that might allow them to still bag the summit (but then need help getting back down).

What frustrates me is the amount of education available to the general public that seems to get ignored on a daily basis. Detailed mountain weather forecasts, professional avalanche bulletins, trail information specialists, qualified guide services… all at our finger tips but often not taken into consideration for a climb on this mountain that has seen so many accidents.

Before I go further and people start thinking I am just wagging my finger I recently read, and shared, a great blog post on “Changing the Culture of Shame“. The message is when we, the climbing community, play “Monday morning quarterback” and start saying “That would never happen to us they were reckless, etc. etc.” we discourage the victims from taking ownership of their ordeal, sharing their experience, and helping other’s learn from their mistakes. I agree with this sentiment to a point, by I also think complete absolution from blatant mistakes inhibits the same potential positive outcomes of an accident.

In reading all the reports on this accident in the various regional news papers and watching video blogs a common theme presented itself. The media often romanticizes these victims in their stories. Some of the titles would probably elicit a hometown hero’s welcome. A few media outlets, especially the local ones, were more accurate in their stories;

“The hikers triggered an avalanche” vrs  “The hikers were caught in an avalanche”.

There’s a big difference in these two statement in terms of responsibility, but avalanche awareness (or lack of) wasn’t the root cause of this accident. Lack of general mountain sense was.

The group split up due to impending darkness and lack of headlamps. They did not have map & compass (and by inference the ability to use them). While not a major contributing factor they had inadequate footwear and traction for climbing Mount Washington this time of year. The media has been referring to them as “hikers” instead of “climbers”, to the approval of many vocal online climbing forums, but this is an issue of semantics. Basically they were somewhat prepared (ice axe, goggles, proper clothing), but lacking “essentials”, navigation skills, team work, communication, “mountain sense”.

Whether we call them hikers or climbers it doesn’t matter. They were woefully under-prepared and made bad decisions recognizable by the vast majority of the climbing community. But I’m not sure what the best way to reduce the amount of these type accidents. My gut tells me we are in for a tough winter with already 5 Mountain Rescue Service calls before the New Year; we are well ahead of average. Every year our avalanche accidents seem to increase.

I’ve changed my previous opinion that charging for rescues can be an effective deterrent. Education, it seems should be the best option. Education has increased driver safety, lowered STD transmission, reduced teen-pregnancy and drug use, it should be able to help keep us safer in the mountains. But there is a resistance to education in the mountains. It’s ironic, as there are more guide services, independent guides, outdoor education programs, online resources, climbing clubs, etc. than there has ever been. Yet the overall culture is not changing fast enough. Everyone, from the victims, the rescuers, the media, and fellow climbers, need to ask themselves how they can help shift the balance to a more responsible use of the mountains. The answer for each will undoubtedly be different, but important.

The photos from this weekend’s avalanche course:

Avalanche Course info and dates for the rest of the season are here:


As the last hours of 2013 are upon us take a quick inventory of your skill set in the mountains. What do you need to brush up on? What resolutions can you make for a productive, safe, fun 2014 climbing/skiing season?

Thanks for reading, please subscribe at the top right if you’d like to follow the progression of avalanche courses I’ll be facilitating this season.

Happy New Year!