CANOE TO SKI
This story featured in the 2013 Buyer’s Guide issue.
The Team: Brian Mohr, Emily Johnson and Justin Beckwith
The Mission: Use canoes to access virgin New England ski runs
By Eugene Buchanan
There’s almost no end to the things you can do in a canoe. New Englanders Brian Mohr, Emily Johnson, and Justin Beckwith have added yet another one to the list: canoe-skiing. Embarking on what Mohr calls their “most adventurous canoe-supported skiing mission yet,” in late March, the trio spent three days paddling and skiing along Vermont’s upper White River, ferrying over to shore whenever they saw a fresh line to ski. “We scouted and skied some surprisingly steep and aesthetic lines as we moved downstream,” says Mohr, adding that canoes were the perfect craft for the trip. “The only hard part was lining up the proper conditions; we needed comfortable river levels that were still ice-free, while having snow still come down close to the river.” While the trio has been combining eddy turns and ski turns for six years, last year marked their first overnight trip. “It was a definite rite of passage for us, and a fun way to explore obscure riverside ski lines before they melt away,” Mohr says. “We love combining activities we enjoy on their own. It takes the expectations off each individual activity, and it shows that high adventure can be found right out your back door.”
The Ride: Emily and I rocked our trusty red, go-anywhere, do-anything, 16-foot Royalex Mad River Explorer. Justin paddled a 16-foot, red plastic Old Town Discovery, which was another good tool for the job. It has a versatile hull shape and he paddled it from the bow with the stern facing downstream. Our boat has been through thick and thin, and works well as an icebreaker, especially since I made 3-foot-long skid plates out of epoxy-soaked felt. One time we came into a cove thinking we’d break the ice but didn’t, and ended up scooting across the shore ice using our ski poles.
The Paddle: Emily uses an old school, metal-tipped wooden paddle she found in the bushes along the river a few years back. I usually grab whatever indestructible plastic-metal paddle we have kicking around. Nothing fancy. There’s some shallow, technical water on the White in late winter, and often a fair amount of ice to break up here and there, so it’s nice to have a paddle you can beat up.
The Threads: We try to time things so the river is relatively free of winter ice, but the snowmelt hasn’t kicked in yet. This way, we’re able to comfortably paddle a shallow, easygoing Class II-III river in our usual backcountry skiing get-up: medium-weight ski boots, softshell pants, lightweight wool and a softshell jacket. We also wear wool hats, light gloves and PFDs. When we spot a nice line, we tie up the boats, climb, and ski back down. Then we get back in the canoes and continue on our way downstream. It works like a charm. Our Patagonia and Marmot WindStopper softshell hoodies work great on the hikes. They have full pit-zips so they ventilate really well, they don’t tear when bushwhacking, and the hoods are great to have when you bump into a branch and it dumps a load of snow on you. We always keep a bundle of kindling and some firestarter, as well as extra layers, in our drybags in case we swim (it’s worth making sure you can swim with your ski boots on). At camp, we throw on some extra wool tops and bottoms, and pull sweaters and puffy jackets out from the drybags. Before bed we cover the coals to preserve them for the morning. A good sleeping bag or someone to snuggle with make it no problemo.