Rugged slopes keep extreme skiers stoked
Rugged slopes keep extreme skiers stoked Charlie Carr of Bristol, N.H., leads his friend, Andy Bell of Thornton, N.H., up The Sluice, a slope with a 50-degree pitch on Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington in New Hampshire (AP photos)
Rugged slopes keep extreme skiers stoked
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On a postcard spring Saturday in New Hampshire's White Mountains, a boisterous band of pilgrims some 2,000 strong is preparing for their own brand of funky and fearless worship.

Alone and in groups, they leave Pinkham Notch and trek 3.1 miles up a narrow, mud- and snow-covered trail toward Tuckerman Ravine, the birthplace of extreme skiing in the United States and for nearly a century, a bucket-list destination for snow-loving thrill-seekers. On their backs, they carry the only possessions required: skis or snowboards, boots, poles, helmets, clothes for any weather, water, protein bars and apples.

Christen Cevoli, a freestyle skiing instructor in Vermont, still had vivid memories of her first trip as she made her second journey to Tuckerman.

"You get to the top of Left Gully and it felt like you were looking down at the edge of the world," she said, cinching the belt on hot pink ski pants and reaching down to buckle her boots.

"I got to the top and I almost started to hyperventilate and I was like, 'If I don't ski down now, you're going to have to helicopter me off this mountain,'" said the 30-year-old from Brewster, Massachusetts. "Yeah, I was scared. It was totally worth it. I just took a deep breath and yelled and just went for it."

Tuckerman is a glacial cirque think of a bowl carved out of the east side of Mount Washington during the last ice age. It's perfectly positioned to catch and cradle snow that swirls off the mountain's 6,288-foot peak, building up an average snowpack of 50-plus feet a year. That usually keeps skiers and riders on its slopes through May.

John Apperson of Schenectady, New York, made the first descent in April 1914. But a summit-to-base race, called the American Inferno and patterned after a similar race in Muerren, Switzerland, captivated skiers around the globe in April 1933, according to Jeff Leich, executive director of the New England Ski Museum and author of "Over the Headwall: Nine Decades of Skiing in Tuckerman Ravine."

"They had an element of the spectacular about them that nobody had ever seen before in this country," Leich said of the races.

Tuckerman put its enduring stamp on the extreme skiing world during the 1939 Inferno courtesy of Toni Matt. The young Austrian finished his final turn before reaching the steepest part of the slope. With no chance to turn, Matt pointed himself down and scorched the hill, cutting the previous race record nearly in half to 6 minutes, 29 seconds. Today, skiers and riders whose grandparents weren't born when Matt made his daring dash still speak his name in hushed reverence.

"It's the legend of Tuckerman Ravine," said Colin Boyd, a 27-year-old from Eliot, Maine, who is the fourth-ranked snowboarder on the Freeride World Tour. "Everybody wants a story to take home. It's a rite of passage."

There are many reasons Tuckerman stokes the imagination.

It's crazy steep: An average of 45 degrees. The website ranks the steepest ski trails in the country and while some short sections are steeper like the 53-degree, 350-foot stretch of Corbet's Couloir at Wyoming's Jackson Hole Tuckerman has the steepest sustained run.

Others cherish the effort it takes to get here. The 3.1-mile hike up 1,800 feet just gets to the bottom of the ravine. It's another hour to climb 1,000 feet to the top. Skiers and riders snake upward in slow-motion conga lines, using the footsteps in front of them like a staircase. There's no base lodge unless you count the pile of stones called Lunch Rocks near the bottom of the bowl, where people sprawl in the sunshine, chow down and watch the fun.

Superb runs earn cheers; spectacular, equipment shedding wipe-outs get huge cheers.

Some are drawn by the freaky weather on Mount Washington, the Northeast's highest peak that was once home to the fastest wind speed ever recorded (231 mph) and is a virtual snow gun from October to May.

Others relish the risks, including avalanches, falling ice and crevasses. Snow rangers remind even Tuckerman veterans that no two runs are alike in the unpredictable bowl. People get hurt here.

Brian Spurr, a 25-year-old from Boston, said the warnings were on his mind.

"It's a little nerve-wracking because so much snow is coming down around you, that you think you're going to cause an avalanche," he said.

Cevoli, the ski instructor, checked her equipment one last time before heading up Left Gully, a big smile breaking out under sunglasses and black bandanna.

"It's the steepest, rawest I've ever skied," she said. "It's the most amazing experience of my life."

Critical thinking challenge: What makes Tuckerman Ravine extreme?

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Assigned 7 times

  • ConnerC-Kut
    5/14/2015 - 07:31 a.m.

    I would think that going to where extreme skiing was born would be a pretty awesome thing, as well as something to do on a bucket list. However getting there is probably going to be hard for these "funky worshipers." There will be slopes, other ravines, and cliffs blocking their way. But if they are already there then forget about that. They have extreme sports to go to.

  • Time-Pav
    5/14/2015 - 09:55 a.m.

    I myself am an extreme snowboarder! I love challenging myself. I have the most fun when I am being challenged. I hate doing easy things, because it is not as fun!

  • HSean-Cas
    5/15/2015 - 07:12 p.m.

    What makes Tuckerman Ravine so extreme is the steep slopes and all the fun you would have there. Cevoli a ski instructor said it's the steepest, and rawest she ever skied. She also said it's the most amazing experience of her life.

  • KiraWvA-4
    5/18/2015 - 07:03 p.m.

    The Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire is the birthplace in the United States of extreme skiing. People go for the steep slopes (45 degrees on average, the steepest sustained run in the US), the 2,800 vertical feet climb that takes hours, the camaraderie, the freaky weather that keeps snow falling the mountain until May and can elicit 231mph winds, the avalanches, falling ice and crevasses that keeps skiers in their toes. A run from the summit of Mount Washington through Tuckerman's Ravine to the base is called "American Inferno" and the ravine was very memorable since an Olympic racer, on the final slope with no chance to turn, arrowed down and broke the record nearly in half--Toni Matt. Extreme sport indeed.

  • ShaniaWentz-Ste
    5/21/2015 - 09:52 p.m.

    I have never went skiing. I have never went snowboarding. I have never went tubing. I have never even built a complete snowman. The last time I rode my snowmobile was three years ago. I love winter, but I wish that I could do more activities than what I usually do. But I would never go extreme skiing. That just seems too dangerous and a little to yolo-ish for my liking. I wish these skiers the best of luck.

  • 9thomasr
    5/27/2015 - 01:00 p.m.

    this is about how extreme tucker man ravine is it its the steepest in the us. all extreme skiers love to go down that hill it is like a bowl with a lot of snow you would not beveled how much snow it is a experience you have to do for your self.

  • TreyvaunT
    5/29/2015 - 01:46 p.m.

    That is something I always wanted to do is to ski. I never got the chance to ski. Actually I never even got the chance to snowboard. Hopefully one day I will go do them both.

  • mattheww-day
    9/25/2015 - 01:29 p.m.

    Tuckerman Ravine has many extreme features. The only way to ski the ravine is to hike the large peak. The mountain is known for many avalanches. The mountain also has many cliffs that people try to go off. Also many people are not able to stop because the hill is very steep.

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