National Geographic : 1936 Nov
NEW ENGLAND SKI TRAILS Snow and Ice Sports Transform Whittier's Winters of Snowbound Seclusion Into Seasons of Outdoor Recreation BY DANIEL ROCHFORD TUCKERMAN'S Ravine, one of the most famous skiing spots of New England, looked in the first picture I saw of it like the dreamland of all dub skiers. It seemed so big and round and comfortably full of snow that I thought it would be simple to climb up one side of the huge snow bowl, shoot down into the bot tom, kill my speed by coasting up the farther slope, and then turn and repeat the performance as long as the thrills lasted. When actually I stood, a winter later, my knees trembling with the fatigue of climbing about one third of the way up the headwall of Tuckerman's Ravine on Mount Washington, and gazed down at those terrifying distances, I remembered howasasmallboyIwenttoalakefor swimming, intending to walk boldly be neath the water, see the fish swim about, and then walk out. Arrived at the lake, I was badly fright ened when my big brother tried to pull me out into the water. EASY TRAVERSES UNHEROIC BUT SAFE I was scared in Tuckerman's that first trip. I did manage to ski down from where I had climbed, but not in the bril liant schuss (page 646) I had visioned. Instead, I took it in an unheroic series of easy traverses, zigs and zags, saving all attempts at anything but stopped turns for the humbler gradients of the vast snow apron that fans out to the little headwall, an eighth of a mile below. True, I had picked the worst day of the year to ski in Tuckerman's. It was the day of the U. S. Eastern Olympic ski trials, March 31, 1935, and a thousand people, spotting the ravine, added the hazards of collision to the terrors of terrain (page 656). A thousand feet it is from the lip of the headwall to the floor of the ravine, just 50 feet less than the drop from the observation tower of the Empire State Building to the street! That afternoon 55 contestants started from the cone on the top of Mount Wash- ington, ran down its 45-degree slope, slowed at the lip of the headwall, and then slipped over its rim and shot at dizzy speed down its sheer steeps. Alexander H. Bright, seeded number one, took the cone straight, shot over the rim of the headwall, fell 20 feet, landed facing the wrong way, made a complete jump turn (page 658), traversed, turned for the con trol flags high on the slope, and schussed to the finish in 1 minute 36.2 seconds from the top of the mountain. John Durrance, elder brother of the Olympic star Richard Durrance, made a single traverse and ran the headwall straight. His speed was so terrific that his legs failed beneath him, and he fell almost at the finish. He lay there for an awful second, staggered to his feet, and slid on through the finish flags for a time of 1:37. The next eight men, in order of times, varied from 1:42 to 2:34. Starters left the summit at one-minute intervals and the timing was by short-wave radio. More than half the men, including champions who later represented the United States in the Olympic races abroad, fell. And once a man fell high on that headwall, he rolled heels over head, skis and all, twenty times his length before he could even begin to slow his slide. SKIING OFFERS PERSONAL TRIUMPH When one has learned to enjoy it, ski ing wins an affection akin to that of a golf addict for his game. No other sport, it seems to me, is so much a matter of self. Skiing is essentially a solo performance. In my own limited experience, I have tried many sports. Polo has its tremendous thrills, but, after all, the horse does much of the work. Sculling has its charms, but also its labors. I have never ridden a free surfboard. Perhaps that is as thrilling, for the sport resembles skiing. I have soloed gliders. Soaring certainly is "tops." But even there, the machine introduces an im personal element.