Mt. Washington NH

History of Skiing in Tuckerman Ravine

Perched on the southeastern side of Mt. Washington is Tuckerman Ravine, a glacial cirque, small by the standards of higher mountains, that has an outsized reputation in the ski world. Attracting notice when skiing was young for the prodigious depths of its snowfields formed when winter winds sweep volumes of snow off the alpine lawns of Mt. Washington and funnel great accumulations into this cirque, Tuckerman Ravine would became a springtime mecca to skiers seeking to extend the ski season, and in the process would become the birthplace of what is today called extreme skiing.

Looking down the headwall
Mt. Washington

Since 1916, the ravine and the surrounding ranges of the White Mountains have been owned and managed by the White Mountain National Forest. Few skiers came to Tuckerman before the Pinkham Notch road was plowed in the winter in the later 1920's, but by the mid-1930's hundreds, then thousands could be found there on sunny spring weekends. Then as now, skiing in Tuckerman Ravine required a hike of about three miles over primitive foot trails to reach the ski runs. No ski lifts have ever been built, or even seriously proposed, in this raw alpine location.

Trudging Up

The first known ascent of the mountain on skis came in 1913, when Fred Harris and two other members of a large party of newly-formed Dartmouth Outing Club (DOC) skied all the way up the carriage road. Dartmouth skiers would pioneer new ski routes on Mt. Washington for the next thirty-five years.

One week later, on April 19, 1931, a group of Harvard skiers became the first to ski from the summit down over the headwall, Robert Livermore, Brad Trafford, and Robert Balch spent a week camping in the road's summit office and skied extensively above timberline. This group would go on to found the Hochgebirge Ski Club that would become instrumental in the development of skiing and ski racing in New England.

In the next few years, Otto Schiebs' Dartmouth skiers - Dick and Jack Durrance, Howard and Warren Chivers, Sel Hannah, Ed Wells, Harold Hillman, Ted Hunter, and Steve and Dave Bradley - made frequent visits to the ravine and probably made the earliest descents of the Left Gully, the Chute and one of the Center Wall routes, at better than 50 degrees some of the steepest routes in the ravine.

With the 1930's came the Depression. John Carleton was instrumental in convincing the Civilian Conservation Corps to cut downhill ski trails in the White Mountains, and one, the John Sherburne Trail, was cut from the floor of the ravine to the Pinkham Notch Road. Also built was a skier's warming hut at Hermit Lake. Its roofline was similar to the Howard Johnson's roadside restaurants then springing up in New England, and it was soon nicknamed HoJo's.

Bill Andrews and Bob Galaher arriving at the Notch
Bill Andrews, Bob Galaher and Ranger at "Howard Johnsons" on Hermit Lake

Races held in the 1930's attracted large groups of spectators and skiers, and provided a chance to mingle with others in the small fellowship of the ski world. Harvard-Dartmouth slaloms, Olympic tryouts, and giant slaloms all were held in the ravine in the 30's. But the races that caught the imagination more than any other, the races that still are talked about by Tuckerman skiers, were the three American Infernos of the 1930's.

The third American Inferno was held April 16, 1939, with forty-two skiers taking part. To reach the start of the race they had to hike the four miles and four thousand vertical feet up the course. On reaching the summit they waited in a shack called Camden Cottage until the decision was made to hold the race in spite of the cold temperatures and 60-mile-per-hour winds.

The Proceeding history is from the excellent Over the Headwall: Nine Decades of skiing in Tuckerman Ravine by Jeffrey R. Leich. and is used with permission. Jeffrey is the Director of the New England Ski Museum.

North Andover Snow Storm

North Andover Sunday afternoon, all praise and tribute. Close up scrutiny of the course convinced the T. T. A. Man no ordinary amount of nerve would be enough to sustain one during a breathless flight to the bottom. Somehow, the idea of it brought to mind Eddie Neil's classic story about a bobsled ride. Hazards always attendant on skiing were magnified a hundredfold by the condition of the snow, which was crusty and hard. No soft covering of snow to upholster the track meant that when you spilled you bounced. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it was only excellent technique that saved the day.

Observer Rides Mt. Washington Avalanche Safely

Special Dispatch to the Globe

MT. WASHINGTON, N. H., March 26—Like one of the mountain gods in Norse mythology, Paul "Uncas" Gerhart, observer at the Mt. Washington Weather Bureau, rode a mountain avalanche in Tuckerman's Ravine this afternoon and lived to tell about it.

Buried by the huge movement of snow, Gerhart shot at dizzy speed for several hundred yards before he came to a halt near the headwall. A badly wrenched knee was his only apparent injury.

Gerhart, walking down the mountain from the observatory at the summit, dug his heels into the six-inch snowfall of the recent "baby blizzard" until he found a hold in the crust underneath. Somehow he started a slide, and down he went, head over heels, rolling faster and faster.

His chances of coming out alive or without broken bones were slim. A pair of skiis, carried on his shoulder when the avalanche started, were lost.

Hobbling with his injured knee, he sought Robert B. Smith at the Forest Service hut near the headwall, helped him tie up the knee, and ten worked his way down to the base, two and a half miles away.

Paul Gerhart, strapping Mount Washington weather bureau observer known to thousands of skiers and summer vacationists as "Uncas," rode down Tuckerman Ravine in an avalanche of tons of snow the other day and escaped with only a wrenched knee. On his way down from the weather station at Mount Washington summit for supplies, Gerhart was carrying his skis and walking through the snows of the right gully of Tuckerman Ravine when he loosened the avalanche near the summit. He rolled and spun down the sheer drop for more than five hundred feet. sometimes buried beneath the snow and again tossed on top of it. Good fortune found him on top when the huge pile stopped at the bottom of the ravine. Gerhart hobbled half a mile to the Appalachian Mountain club shelter, where U. S. Forest Guard Robert Smith gave him first aid for his knee. He was then taken to a hospital

Concord Man Saved by Wife in Mountain Fall

Special Dispatch to the Globe

GRASHMERE, N.H., Nov. 11—Milo Cushman of Concord, Mass., a teacher in that town, is at the Hillsboro County Hospital here with injuries received when he cheated death in a plunge down the side of Joe English Mountain in New Boston shortly after 4 this afternoon. Knowledge of the full extent of his injuries awaited a report on X-ray pictures, but it is believed his condition is not serious.

Cushman, it was said, probably owes his life to the action of his wife, Mrs. Hila Cushman, a teacher in the shirley Hill School, Goffstown, with whom he was scaling the mountain. They were reported tied by ropes and when Cushman slipped, about midway up the mountain, his wife grabbed him after he had slid about 50 feet down the steep slope, and saved him from a drop of about 100 feet.

A group of soldiers from the Manchester air base, passing the Armistice Day holiday in mountain climbing, heard Mrs. Cushman's call for help. They secured a stretcher from a Red Cross first-aid station and carried the man a considerable distance through woods to the highway. From there he was removed to the hospital.

Miss Helen Clement, a nurse, assisted the soldiers in giving the injured man first aid treatment. Mrs. Cushman was reported to have suffered bruises when she was dragged a short distance. Her husband is believed to have suffered back injuries.