DIFFICULT 1 mile ski
The Alexandria and the Duke’s Ski Trail are classic down-mountain runs that descend the east side of the Firescrew-Mount Cardigan summit ridge to the AMC Cardigan Lodge.
How To Get There:
Approximately 1.2 hours drive from Hanover. Take I-89 South one exit to the Enfield Exit, head east on Rt 4. Left on Rt 104E. After 5 miles, left onto Cass Mill Rd. after 3.5 miles, right onto Washburn Rd. 0.7 Miles later, left onto Mt. Cardigan Rd - this turns into Shem Valley Rd. Arrive.
The trails on Cardigan are exciting and high-quality ski runs that are maintained perennially. Leaving Cardigan Lodge and heading toward the Alexandria and Duke’s trails, the slopes of the Dukes Pasture appear shortly on the right. A rope ski tow was in operation on these slopes in the early 1940s, powered by a gasoline motor from a car that several people dragged to the top of the hill. When skiing down the Duke’s trail, you can still find the remains of the engine just off to the right before you enter the clearing.
The Alexandria Ski Trail is reached after following the Holt Trail 0.8 miles, crossing a bridge over Bailey Brook, and reaching a three way trail junction. Alexandria continues straight ahead. The trail follows the fall line from just below the summit ledges and runs for about miles. It is about twenty feet wide, a comfortable width for carving turns down the mountain.
The Alexandria Trail was designed by a skier for skiers, turning where it needs to and wide enough to have fun on. The outlooks higher up on the trail, particularly when it reaches the rocky ledges, face north and east, and offer a nice panorama of southern New Hampshire. The trail narrows at its upper reaches to about ten feet wide and ranges in steepness from twenty to twenty-five degrees.
The original trail continued to the top of South Peak but now ends at the junction with the Clark Trail at Pajama Ledge, presumably because of soil erosion higher up. The rocky summit ledges of Cardigan are very exposed; plastered with ice and snow, they can be treacherous without proper climbing equipment in winter. While it is possible to simply climb the Alexandria and ski back down the same way, skiers should skin up the Cathedral Forest/Clark hiking trails to the top of the Alexandria trail just below PJ Ledge. In addition to being an easier ascent and preserving the snow on the Alexandria, climbing these hiking trails helps reduce conflicts between skiers and climbers.
The Duke’s Trail is a little longer than the Alexandria and is considered somewhat easier. It is no longer as popular as the Alexandria and can be somewhat difficult to find. Starting from the ski slopes just west of the Cardigan Lodge, the bottom of the Duke’s Trail follows the cut for the old rope tow up the mountain. The trail continues directly up the fall line of a rounded ridge for about a mile. It ends at the Manning Trail.
The skiing on Cardigan is not limited to these classic down-mountain runs. There is a network of easy cross-country ski trails in the area of the lodge that beginners will enjoy. The gentle ski slopes near the lodge are a good place to practice your cross-country downhill technique. Information on ski workshops that take place on Cardigan is available from the AMC.
The slopes of Mount Cardigan continue to offer high-quality mountain skiing, even after fifty years. As you swoosh down the Alexandria, picture the person ahead of you in ten-pound hickory skis with cable bindings, bearing down the hill and reveling in the discovery of this “new” sport called skiing. No matter what era, not much changes about that thrill of floating through deep snow down the side of a mountain with spectacular views of the New England countryside all around you.