When you think of backcountry snowboarding your mind likely jumps to heli-boarding in BC, huge cliff drops in Jackson Hole, or endless powder in Niseko. To Rome SDS AM Ralph Kucharek and his good friend, Nathanael Asaro, backcountry riding is right off their doorsteps in Northern Vermont. While it may not be the most traditional backcountry setting, the woods of Vermont have plenty of fresh snow to be had...if you know where to look.
We sat down with Ralph and Nathanael to see how they earn their turns in Vermont powder.
Rome: Very few riders choose to pave their way in the East Coast backcountry, it seems all East Coasters fly the coop and head out West. What prompted you to continue to ride in Vermont?
Ralph: I think the biggest contributing factor to staying in Vermont is the community and accessibility to the mountains. I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time out West in places I dreamt of visiting as a kid and those experiences have been very fulfilling, progressive, and perspective building too. It made a lot of sense to stay here, because snowboarding to me is more enjoyable spent in good company and there is plenty of that here. It’s also important to acknowledge Vermont loves snowboarding and has deep roots in the culture. Over time as my preferences changed, I learned there was a lot of soft snow to find here, our temperatures preserve snow for a long time, and terrain is really accessible here. I was fortunate to meet Nathanael for example, who I owe a lot to for showing me how to find and navigate powder runs here in Vermont. Nathanael and the rest of the crew have really opened my mind up to what is possible here.
Nathanael: I never really had the opportunity to go out west when I was younger. I took a few trips to A-Basin to visit friends early on in my college years, but I wasn’t pursuing a career in snowboarding. If there was an opportunity to move out West I might have taken it but I was tied up with school in Boston at the time. I still think about moving out West and it's still a possibility. I am reaching the point in my life where I have some extra money saved up and I want to invest some of it in pow experiences before I’m too old.
Rome: As someone who is well-travelled and has in fact ridden big mountains in the West, what makes Vermont pow riding magical to you?
Ralph: I would like to preface this answer with the fact that comparing our mountains to the west is like comparing apples to oranges. They’re both round, but the experience eating them is a lot different. There are a lot of days I yearn for bigger terrain, deeper snow, and the western experience. However, Vermont pow riding is magical to me because everything is hidden. We don’t have wide open mountains and views to scope terrain, you really have to know where to go. When the dots connect it's one of my favorite feelings. It feels like there are a ton of hidden doors into powder rooms and as you become more well-versed in terrain you start to find new routes and learn how to flow through each specific run. A lot of times we are walking to terrain too and never in a rush, which allows me to take in my surroundings and the tranquility that winter offers even more.
Rome: Explain your daily VT pow boarding routine to those who may not know what it's all about.
Ralph: My goal is to get to the mountain by 7:30. I prefer at least 30 minutes of mellow-morning time so I wake up around 5:30 to make coffee and watch skateboarding to get juiced for the day. Lift opens at 8 AM and that thirty minute early arrival insulates time to get whatever gear packed up that I need for the day, sync with the crew, and make it to the lift line. There’s usually always a warm up lap or two on trail powder and then we push to the woods. There also tends to be a lot of walking, post-holing through snow that can be chest deep, and trying to find the blue dot on the GPS the good old fashioned way.
Nathanael: It depends on whether it's a weekday or a weekend/forecasted pow day. If its a sleeper week day storm I’ll get there at 7:50am and make my way to the lift and hopefully get on at 8 with no line. It's usually a few trail laps and then out into the woods or hike out to a zone when we have enough snow. If it's a crowded powder panicked day I’ll hike or split up the mountain around 6am to avoid the anxiety of the line-up . By the time I get in line I'm usually calm because the feeling of the first run was enough to keep me happy all day. Then it's a few laps with the crew and then some sort of exploration to get away from the people and find good snow or new zones.
Rome: Are you actually able to ride non-resort mountains in Vermont or is the terrain mostly sidecountry?
Rome: Any highlights from last season? How was it overall snow-wise and from a riding perspective?
Rome: Favorite zones in Vermont? (You don’t have to get too descriptive if you don’t wanna blow the spot up)
Rome: What are essentials in the backpack?
- Space Blanket/First Aid Kit - If shit hits the fan, rescues take a long time here in Vermont and snow is obviously cold. We’ve seen these work in real time and be the deciding factor of people going hypothermic and sustaining enough body heat.
- Water - We are made of it and hydration helps make better turns.
- Tool & Spare Ladders and Rachets for Bindings - There’s nothing worse than your binding breaking before your potential best run of the season. TIP: Key Chain Rings work great for connecting ankle ladders or straps if your screws come undone.
- Walkie Talkies: Easy to communicate with ski patrol if the worse case happens and when you’re in the woods and cannot see each other its a nice way to stay in the loop when the crew scatters.
- Pastries: Nothing like a partially frozen cinnamon circle or fruit twist from Klinger’s Bakery.
Rome: Any suggestions for people looking to get after it in the VT sidecountry?
All photos courtesy of Nathanael Asaro
Check out Ralph's setup here