At Mt. Abram, A Community of Newbie Uphillers Takes Shape

The nonprofit Inclusive Ski Touring is out to make ski touring more affordable and approachable.

a group called Inclusive Ski Touring skiing on the trails at Mt. Abram
By Adrienne Perron
Photographed by Tara Rice
From our March 2023 issue
Zachary McCarthy, founder of Inclusive Ski Touring
“To provide this space that gives people opportunities to meet others is exciting,” Zachary McCarthy says.

Zachary McCarthy was 12 when he started skiing the backcountry, known as ski touring, at Rumford Whitecap Mountain. He learned to hike up a mountain in skis using skins — strips of fibrous material that stick to the bottom of a ski, creating friction on the snow — then navigate down a mountainside spattered with trees. It was nothing like skiing at a resort, and he loved it. “Ninety percent of the time, you’re walking uphill. And then you have a few minutes of a descent,” he says. “But the rewarding feeling is unmatched.”

Ski touring has become 25-year-old McCarthy’s passion, but he knows it’s not an easy pastime to pick up. For starters, it requires different gear from resort skiing, and a from-scratch setup, including skis, boots, bindings, and skins, can run more than $2,000. When he launched a group called Inclusive Ski Touring, in 2021, his hope was to make learning to tour more affordable and approachable. 

These days, McCarthy, who lives in Hanover, is IST’s executive director and one of 50 volunteers with backcountry experience who leads newbie-friendly weekend ski-touring trips at Greenwood’s Mt. Abram, ski area, where McCarthy is also the marketing director. As many as 60 skiers gather to skin up the mountain’s 1½-mile Roundabout and Sweeper trails every weekend, paying just $10 for the program and $5 for an uphill ticket (a lift ticket is $35), along with $40 to rent a full package of touring gear. (Participants with financial barriers can have program and ticket costs waived.) The arrangement lets skiers try out touring before investing in equipment — or simply try it once to say they have. Participants must know how to downhill ski, but plenty have never used skins or left groomed trails. IST’s outings offer a space where questions are encouraged and no one’s in a rush. But experienced ski tourers show up too, McCarthy says, often just to meet others who are into “earning their turns.”

Last year, more than 500 skiers toured with Inclusive Ski Touring through its women-only and open programs; this season, IST has partnered with other nonprofits to run programs specifically for Black skiers and for LGBTQ+ skiers. The group also introduced six Intro to Backcountry courses, trips into the White Mountains that teach skiers to apply their touring skills off the resort and in the wilderness.

Whatever the setting, McCarthy says, his favorite part of IST’s programs is seeing participants light up with pride in their physical achievement. “They work hard for a couple hours to do that,” he says, “and they get to share the accomplishment with the people they put in the work with.”

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