Gould Alums Get Early Season Pow Turns in the Chic Chocs
One of the great things Gould does well is bring together like minded individuals who are able to collaborate and share their passion with each other. The result of this is students, faculty, and alumni connecting and collaborating on some amazing projects and adventures. Recently two alums Ben Bishop ’06 & Jackie Paaso ’00 teamed up for a preseason trip to Canada for some east coast back country skiing and snowboarding. Here is the run down as told by Jackie.
“The Chic-Choc Mountains, also spelled Shick Shocks, is a mountain range in the central region of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, Canada. It is a part of the Notre Dame Mountains, which is a continuation of the Appalachian Mountains.”
It’s an area I hadn’t heard much about until last season. I met Jon Tierney the owner of Acadia Mountain Guides while taking a Wilderness First Aid course. Jon was the instructor and had mentioned that he guided trips up in the Chic-Chocs. It had been years since I had skied back East much and at first I found it hard to believe that there was any decent backcountry skiing in the Northeast. Sure there is Tuckerman Ravine and maybe a few spots in the Adirondacks other than those locations I personally hadn’t heard much about skiing outside of resorts in this part of the world.
The 2013-14 season came and went and I still hadn’t found the time to make the trip up north to Quebec. At this point I started seeing pictures and stories about other friends in the skiing industry heading to this spot and my curiosity continued to grow. This place must really be worth the drive, I thought to myself. I’ve got to make it up there next season.
These days I’m back in Maine for some time in November. It’s sort of my slow season, although in the midst of organizing avalanche clinics and prepping for a long winter it doesn’t really feel that slow anymore. Sunday River had opened recently, I’ve got my new skis and the urge to get on the snow gets stronger and stronger this time of the year. I heard all about the snow that hit areas a few hours outside of Bethel but that didn’t really interest me much due to that regions lack of good size mountains. My brother however ran across some info that claimed the Chic-Choc mountains had been hit hard with snow. Immediately I started researching the area and thinking of who could join me that was near by.
Avalanches are not something you think of often when you think of the Northeast. However, the Chic-Choc mountains are not immune and during the normal season they do have local avalanche forecasters checking the stability of the snow in the areas they have opened to ski touring. It’s really a great system that they’ve got going on up there. Most is in French but if you look hard enough you find a ton of useful information. It was November and avalanche forecasting had not yet started for this area. I knew if I was going to head up into these mountains for the first time with little info I was going to have to trust who ever joins me. That’s when I thought about my friend Ben. Ben Bishop, a fellow Gould graduate has spent his fair amount of time in the mountains. These days he is known for filming and his resume includes some of the best females in the ski and snowboard industry. A Wilderness First Responder and level 1 AIARE avalanche course graduate, Ben is someone I can trust to take lead or follow if needed.
The Chic-Chocs were new territory for both of us and although it was quite the trip we felt we needed to explore what was up there. The first day we arrived and decided we would cruise the park and get a feel for the area. We were unsure of what area to ski first. After a bit of driving and exploring this beautiful region by car we decided we needed to get out and make a quick lap. We cruised up to the summit of the Champs de Mars in about an hour. We knew from the local avalanche information that this was a “simple” skiing area which meant there was little to no avalanche danger in this area.
Having a better grasp of what was around us we planned on going for a longer tour the following day. This time we would be heading up Mt. Lyall. This area posed a little more risk for avalanche and Ben and I had decided that we would stick to the skiers left routes. We ran into a few other people while out on the mountain. One solo snowboarder, a group of four and a pair with only one set of avalanche gear between the two. Since Mt. Lyall was in what was referred to by the locals as challenging terrain it could be more prone to slides depending on the snowpack. As I mentioned earlier the avalanche forecasting had not yet started for the season which meant we would have to check it on our own. It would of been easy to just ski down, at least that’s what it seemed like everyone else was doing. I knew it was better to ignore the tracks and make and educated decision based on my own research. Ben and I both dug pits to be able to test the snowpack and came up with the conclusion that it was bonding pretty well. Still wanting to proceed with caution we soon discovered that this area was going to need a bit more snow before you could really ski this area. They had cut down a few trees to make it possible to ski in more areas. When they did this they left tree stumps that were perfectly covered by the early season snow. Just enough to make them unnoticeable in some areas. We decided it was better to get down safely rather than take our chances with the tree stumps.
I can’t say we had the best skiing experience on our first trip to the Chic-Chocs. In fact the skiing was pretty bad. That being said I’m very happy we made it up there and I can’t wait to plan another mid winter trip to this wonderful area. I could see a lot of potential for some great backcountry skiing in this region. Not to mention it’s a beautiful place full of wildlife. One fox, two ski tours, three whales, many birds and 12 moose later we were on our way back home. The Chic-Chocs had lived to our expectations. I’m already looking forward to getting back there
Words by: Jackie Paaso ’00
Photos by: Ben Bishop ’06