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. It's the birthplace of extreme skiing in the United States. For nearly a century, it's also been a bucket-list destination for snow-loving thrill-seekers. On their backs, they carry the only possessions required. Those include 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. Just think of a bowl. It was 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. Tuckerman's average snowpack is 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. That was in April 1914. 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. That's 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. It was 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. He cut the race record nearly in half to 6 minutes, 29 seconds. Today, skiers and riders still speak his name in hushed reverence.

"It's the legend of Tuckerman Ravine," said Colin Boyd, a 27-year-old from Eliot, Maine. He 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 Gondyline.com ranks the steepest ski trails in the country. 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. It is 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 can 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 was breaking out under her 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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COMMENTS (40)
  • KATERAWI-bro
    5/14/2015 - 05:52 p.m.

    This is so intresting I have been skiing 23 times this winter it is sooo much fun I want to do it in summer too because it's so hot in the summer but it's too far from my house in Florida that I live in till september 1st every year

    • AmauriB-Ewi
      5/19/2015 - 12:32 p.m.

      U never want to ski when is hot cause u walking up the slope in u past out or died cause u have not had water and plus the snow is melting u should always have extra stuff and case if something happened.

  • Jenna-Janning
    5/14/2015 - 06:35 p.m.

    When you run up a hill you are gaining a lot of potential energy. When you fly down you have kentic energy and it keep going. And as you keep going its interia that keeps you going down the hill

  • CarsonP-2
    5/14/2015 - 07:38 p.m.

    Christen Cevoli, a freestyle skiing instructor in Vermont, still had vivid memories of her first trip as she made her second journey to Tuckerman.The slopes were very steep and alerted lots of people. These slopes were also very dangerous, so only skilled riders were able to travel down.

    • AmauriB-Ewi
      5/19/2015 - 12:25 p.m.

      she must been practicing and exercise and she in her right shape and she wanted to try something in life and she did u can be anything in life and she was a ski and they have ice glacier they are very dangerous.

    • AmauriB-Ewi
      5/19/2015 - 12:17 p.m.

      I really don't like to be out and the cold I never ski and my life but it did see very fun and I hate being sick so u will have to swear all them clothes and they u will be heat and stuff but its seen very fun.

  • ElleW-3
    5/14/2015 - 08:24 p.m.

    Skiers go down intense mountains to have some fun. When they looked on the slope it is very steep, but they have to pull through and go down. One person said that if he didn't go down now, he would need to be helicoptered off the mountain. Skiers like to go on the most adventurous spot. One of their favorite spots is a glacier where snow lays up to 50 feetand they can just roll down the mountain. I think that it would be very scary to ski down places where nobody else has skied. These people are very adventurous, and brave.

    • AmauriB-Ewi
      5/19/2015 - 12:07 p.m.

      I'm not brave cause I wouldn't go that high and plus 50 feet of snow is high in jump of the slope some people think they brave and they not in the quite some people don't care they just gone do it.

    • AmauriB-Ewi
      5/19/2015 - 11:28 a.m.

      Me and my relatives will ski on the low surface but 3 miles to get to the top is very scary u can fall and hurt yourself some people are just dumb i would love to ski it look fun but not go up 3 miles that's to high.

  • NikkiS-5
    5/14/2015 - 11:52 p.m.

    Some extreme skiers seek out rough terrain and crazy steeps. In New Hampshire's White Mountains, a group of fearless skiers and snowboarders make the three mile trek to Tuckerman. In their backpacks, only the necessities are needed. Some may include water, protein bars, extra layers, and gear. Tuckerman is a glacier clique. It gets an average on 50 feet of snow per year. As they reach the top, someone spdescribed it like looking at the edge of the world. I, personally, love to ski. Any kind or form. However I would be very hesitant to going where only few people ski. When I grow up, I would like to be fearless of any slope.

    • AmauriB-Ewi
      5/19/2015 - 11:17 a.m.

      I think ski is fun but dangerous a glacier is a slowly moving mass or river of ice formed by the accumulation and compaction of snow on mountains or near the poles. some people go so fast in cant stop in in hit something and died are get hurt really bad and 50 feet of snow is a lot.

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