Shame on the Sherbie
The Sherburne Trail on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is a backcountry ski trail that runs from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center to Hermit Lake, ascending roughly a third of the way up the mountain. For many, the Sherburne Trail is thought of solely as the easiest way to the parking lot from Tuckerman’s Ravine, but on the right day just skiing the “Sherbie” can be a lot of fun. Because the Sherbie’s difficulty roughly equates to a blue square at the resort, it often attracts new backcountry skiers, but the variable conditions encountered there can often affect the challenge, and catch newer skiers unaware.
While I have enjoyed some of my finer ski days on the Sherbie, I have also been subjected to my fair share of humbling days there. It’s funny looking back on the days I have spent on the Sherburne—for some reason, the shameful days resonate more with me than the epic days. Perhaps reflecting on those early years has made me more appreciative of how far I have come, or maybe it is just funny to think about what a gaper I was.
My long, less-than-glamorous history with the Sherburne Trail started nearly ten years ago when I took an AIARE class. At the time I was an aspirant snowboarder (I had a snowboard but no idea how to actually use it) and was becoming a dedicated ice climber. With the expectation of climbing gullies in the White Mountains, I thought taking an AIARE Avalanche course was a wise decision. For some reason, I allowed myself to be talked into bringing my snowboard…even crazier was when I got talked into attempting to descend the Sherbie at the end of the first day.
For those of you who have never seen someone try snowboarding the first time, let me give you some insight into how it goes. The person points the board downhill, gets a little too much speed, doesn’t know what to do, and crashes, having covered roughly five feet. They’ll repeat this process for somewhere between two and four days before eventually getting the hang of riding a snowboard. Now preferably this takes place on the bunny hill of the local ski resort, where snow conditions are consistent and the new rider is surrounded by a group of people in the same boat—not on a backcountry ski trail, after a long day of hiking with a group of proficient backcountry skiers and riders.
Learning to snowboard is frustrating for everyone. It’s hard to explain, but snowboarding is one of those things you just have to keep doing until it clicks. Once you have the “ah-ha” moment, everything comes together and progression happens fast. The problem is that everything that happens before that “ah-ha” moment results in you getting slammed into the ground. So as I attempted to descend the Sherburne Trail the first time, five feet at a time, pummeling myself with increasingly painful falls, I got frustrated. Making it even worse was the class full of advanced skiers standing around to witness my futility, and becoming frustrated themselves by how long it was taking me to descend this moderate trail.
After what felt like an hour and a thousand falls—but was realistically twenty minutes and ten falls—I scrapped the idea of a snowboard descent (I must have knocked some sense into myself), attached my snowboard to my backpack, and veered through the woods to the hiking trail. As happy as I was to be off the snowboard, I believe the group was twice as happy to finally be free of me, so they could enjoy their easy descent to the parking lot. Arriving in the parking lot was a joyful moment, and for the next day of class, with a lesson learned, I wisely decided to stick with snowshoes.
That day on the Sherbie will always stick with me. In fact, I think it is one of my more memorable outdoor days, even though it hasn’t been the only day I’ve been served a slice of humble pie from the Sherburne Trail. Over the years, I’ve experienced a handful of other rough outings, such as my first backcountry trip with a splitboard and my first time attempting to telemark off-piste. In truth, I imagine that there are a few more out there waiting for me. But that’s the thing with progression—while trying new things and putting yourself outside of your comfort zone, you’re bound to have at least a few rough days.