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Skiing Tuckerman Ravine

01/08/03 12:00AM By Will Curtis
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(Host) Recent headlines have reminded commentator Will Curtis of one of the most legendary - and dangerous - places to ski in New England.

(Curtis) Late last November, we read in the paper of an accident in which two men suffocated in snow while climbing the icy headwall of Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington. They had been swept off by an avalanche.

Tuckerman Ravine is a vast basin on Mount Washington, beloved by skiers and ice climbers. It's a classic example of what a glacier can do to a mountain. The last ice sheet, moving over the top of Washington, simply plucked out the side of the mountain and moved on. The result is an enormous steep-sided bowl, filled with snow in winter.

Jane's family has had a long addiction to skiing in the ravine. Her father, skiing there in the early days, would come home with tales of awesome spills. During Jane's April vacation from college she and her friends headed for the ravine and spring skiing.

Pinkham Notch Camps, where they stayed, is at the beginning of the three mile trail to the ravine. It didn't hurt that the Yale Ski Team stayed there also, or that the Dartmouth Ski Team was nearby. She said the presence of some attractive Norwegians and Austrians didn't hurt either.

When I read the newspaper account of the accident, I thought of my days in the ravine. How every Friday, Jane and I would head for Pinkham Notch Camps. Early next morning we would ski up the trail to the ravine, carrying our lunch. I can picture myself now, poised on my skis on that impossible slope under that overhanging cliff, knowing that if I fell it would be a long, long time before I came to a stop. I remember that once you got as high up the headwall as you dared, it was best to push off at once; otherwise you got sort of paralyzed and were unable to move.

At the day's end we would leave our skis up in the ravine. But one morning we returned to find a hungry porcupine had eaten our leather toe straps! Luckily I had enough baling twine in my pack.

In the newspaper account of November's accident, it was said that the climbers had been warned of avalanche danger. I have never forgotten "my avalanche," the time that tons of snow suddenly roared down the ravine sweeping two skiers past me, burying them. Luckily there were enough of us to dig them out quickly, alive but rather broken up. I helped transport a victim on a toboggan down to the camp, then managed by Joe Dodge, the famous mountain man who was not known for hiding his feelings. Tired by the long trip down the trail, but feeling we had done our duty by a fellow skier; we carried the toboggan into the camp, placing it on a table. Just then, Joe Dodge came in, but instead of receiving praise, we were told to, "Get that EXPLETIVE, EXPLETIVE toboggan off my table!" So much for the injured skier.

This is Will Curtis of Woodstock, Vermont.

Will Curtis is an author and naturalist.
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