As a conservationist and former caretaker, I have spent countless hours talking with folks about the effects of trampling and leaving the durability of a trail or the snowpack. A common response is, “the plants have survived the harshest weather conditions on the planet, I don’t think stepping on them is any worse.” I wish this was true, but it is not. Alpine vegetation, including a handful of plants that grow nowhere else in the world, has done an incredible job at adapting to the harshest winter environment on the planet over thousands of years. These adaptations allow even the smallest flowering plants to survive through hurricane-force winds, deep snowpacks, sub-zero temperatures, and all types of precipitation. Unfortunately, these plants have not had thousands of years to adapt to the patterns and impact of backcountry skiers and off-trail wanderers and even a couple bootprints can be catastrophic for these fragile species.
Trampling and disturbance of alpine vegetation is most commonly seen adjacent to trails and in high traffic areas including Mount Washington, around huts and shelters, near the Auto Road, and increasingly, we are seeing this disturbance at the top of most of our popular ski runs. Trampling is no one individual’s fault, but rather a product of our community travel habits in the mountains. Sure, Tuckerman has been dealing with this issue for years (and it shows) but with a huge increase in use to other ravines and more remote zones, we have a critical chance to evolve our travel behavior as a community.