For a special few, extreme skiing on Mount Washington has been a rite of spring for nearly 80 years. Every year, some of the best skiers in northeastern United States and eastern Canada join the pilgrimage to this springtime skiing mecca, which many consider the birthplace of extreme skiing.
On the first day of spring, we met friends at overflowing Pinkham Notch for a trek to Tuckerman Ravine. Neither Nancy nor I are expert skiers, but I probably qualify as tentative almost wannabe. This was the third time I’d hauled skis up to Tuck. The first time, about 15 years ago, two friends and I carried cross-country skis beyond Tuck to the summit on the first day of spring and skied down the auto road. Holding a desperate snow plow for the entire terrifying 8 mile descent, my legs were sore for a week. I immediately decided that would qualify as one of my “first time and last time” skiing experiences. After learning to Telemark ski about 5 years ago, friend Brent and I carried Tele skis and boots to Tuck, climbed to the summit, returned to Tuck and descended the Sherburne Trail on skis. About five falls later, I arrived at Pinkham Notch battered and bruised, but alive. In short, I am not an extreme skier, but I hang out with extremely cool company, friends Brent and Greg. Carrying heavy packs that included our Tele Skis, boots and warm clothing, we ascended a well-packed trail 3 miles to Hermit Shelter and then continued on for about a half mile to a huge bowl at the base of Tuckerman Headwall in a spectacular glacial cirque. We arrived in time to watch parades of climbers carrying skis up the headwall, various gullies and “highways.” Shortly after our arrival, a downhill skier jumped off the icy rocks at the top of the headwall, landed imperfectly and proceeded to tumble end-over-end, with arms, legs, skis and poles flailing, until he reached the bottom of the bowl. Carefully assessing the situation, I decided that I’d ski Tuck next year when I was older. In fairness, most of the skiers had successful runs and Brent hit near perfect Tele turns while careening down Hillman’s Highway. Returning to Hermit Shelter, I finally donned my skis for a more timid ride down the Sherburne Trail. The trail was steeper, narrower and more difficult than I remembered. Tele turns quickly morphed to snowplows as I cautiously negotiated moguls while avoiding preschoolers who sped by on skis and snowboards, spraying wet snow in my face as they passed. Utilizing the whitewater technique of catching eddies, I slowly navigated down the precipitous trail, reaching Pinkham Notch nearly 45 minutes behind my relieved friends. Next year, maybe I’ll just hike up to Tuck and take pictures. For detailed information on hiking trails to Tuck and the summit of Mount Washington, refer to our book, Mountains for Mortals – New England, or visit our website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com for details on how to obtain a copy.