Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tuckermans Ravine

Although the ski seasons is still going strong, I am already excited for spring to come so that trips to Tuckerman's Ravine on Mt. Washington can start again. In my mind Tuckerman's is the pinacle of Northeast spring skiing. Tuckerman's is famous for the quality of the snow pack, even late into the spring. This is due to its geography that causes much of the surrounding areas snow to blow down into the ravine creating an amazing base.

Tuckermans days are my favorite way to end the skiing season. The two hour hike into the lodge at the base of the ravine (lovingly named the HoJo's), is just long enough to work up a good appetite, but not enough to burn you out for the hike up the face of the ravine. One of the best parts of the day is hanging out, eating on the lunch rocks at the base of the ravine. The crowd is usually very friendly, and the amount of people that show up on a nice weekend day is impressive.

The hike up the bowl itself can be a bit nerve wracking, especially if people in front of you are slipping a lot. Its hard to describe the steepness of the ascent, the best way I've been able to describe it is climbing a frozen ladder. The ride down is worth it though, the bowl is steep and wide open. Its probably the closest to big mountain riding you can get on the east coast. Once you're too tired to climb the face again, you still have a fun ride out on the snow packed riverbed that parallels the two mile hiking trail that brought you in.

Here are a few excerpts from the history of the ravine from the site:

Named after botanist Edward Tuckerman who studied alpine plants and lichens in the area in the 1830's and 1840's, this ravine exerted a pull on the earliest visitors to the White Mountains. Henry David Thoreau visited in 1858, and in a prelude to the mishaps that would befall some later visitors, he sprained his ankle, and suffered intense embarrassment when his guide started a forest fire that swept the floor of the ravine. In the late 1920's, skiers came to Tuckerman a little more frequently as accessibility improved due to winter plowing of the highway through Pinkham Notch. Skiing was becoming more popular as clubs such as the DOC and AMC involved more people in the sport.

The "HoJo" is the last stop before the ravine

In the 1930's skiing was a booming sport. As the decade progressed, increased publicity about skiing, the availability of formal ski instruction, ski trains, and mechanical ski tows all brought new recruits to the sport. No longer the exclusive preserve of club skiers and college teams, skiing attracted a wider group, and those new skiers made their way to Tuckerman in large numbers. In the early 1930's it was common for a group a skiers to have the massive bowl to themselves, but by mid-decade there would be hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of skiers in the ravine on a clear spring day.

Tuckerman's is dangerous

Just two years after the headwall was first run in 1931, the Ski Club Hochgebrige proposed a summit-to-base race on Mt. Washington, to be called the American inferno, named for a similar race held in Mürren, Switzerland.

The heavy snowpack of 1933 had piled up in Tuckerman Ravine so deeply that the angle of the slope was lessened enough to make the race practical. On April 16, 1933 the first Inferno was run, from the summit down Right Gully through the ravine and down the hiking trail to Pinkham Notch. The winner was Hollis Philips, with a time of 14:41.3.

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