Last week I wrote that I wasn’t a bike racer, but I enjoyed a bike race. Well, I’m not an alpine skier either, but I still went to Tuckerman’s Ravine this weekend.
It started something like this: having dinner with friends on Thursday night, they started talking about going to Tucks on Saturday. I wanted to go. Oh man, I wanted to go. But… “I really should work on my thesis, guys. I just don’t think I can go.”
My friends pretty much think that I’m crazy and all this work I’ve been doing is somewhat unnecessary. So they convinced me (it didn’t take much): I hadn’t been to Tuckerman’s in four years at Dartmouth, and this would be my last chance. I could always make up for it by working harder the next day, right?
And so on Saturday morning we shoved our skis in the car and hit the road. The cast of characters included this outgoing ski team captains Hannah Dreissigacker and Courtney Robinson, incoming captain Ida Sargent, senior teammate Sarah Van Dyke and her friend Nate Mazonson, and my old Ford Sayre teammate Natalie Ruppertsberger, who was home from Bates on break.
When we arrived, we ran into more friends: Pete Van Deventer, Lizzy Asher, Katie Ammons, and Zoe Acher. They had driven up the night before to get an early start, but their plan had obviously failed since we all met up around 10.
Natalie, Hannah and I don’t own our own alpine gear, so we had brought nordic skis. As we stood waiting for people to get ready at Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center, the AMC staffer came over and asked us if we did this often.
“No,” I replied, “Not really.”
“Well, just be careful. Those skis aren’t really appropriate. You’re not planning on skiing the bowl, are you?”
No, we weren’t. But it seemed to us that anyone who bothered to bring nordic skis probably had, actually, a pretty good idea of what they were doing; it would never occur to an out-of-state novice to bring nordic gear. This was evidenced by how many times we were asked if we were crazy.
As we started up, Pete said, “Less talking, more walking!” which turned out to be his mistake. Natalie and I power-hiked up, passing dozens of people on the highway of a trail. We were aided by the fact that our skis weighed so much less than everyone else’s heavy alpine skis and boots or snowboards. Nonetheless, it was a workout; I guess maybe we are a little competitive with each other! I was drenched in sweat by the time we reached the Hermit Lakes shelters, where we paused for a snack before continuing up into the bowl.
There were so many people. It was overwhelming. Where could we put our packs and eat lunch? Before we even figured this out, someone shouted “Avalanche!” and we watched as a huge section just below the cliffs come tumbling down as people sprinted out of the way. It ran out before it reached us, but we still retreated towards the scrubby trees.
We decided to climb up to some rocks on the right side of the ravine, high above the “Lunch Rocks”. It was a steep hike, and I wondered a few times, “how am I going to get down from here?” But I put these thoughts on hold.
We sat in the sun eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, slapping on sunscreen and watching people tackle the headwall. It was probably sixty degrees and not a cloud in the sky; I could have sat on those rocks forever, although I would have ended up with quite a suburn.
It was amazing the risks people were taking. We saw a guy break his femur. While he was being helped, not a minute after his crash, a snowboarder attempted the same line and carwheeled all the way down; I don’t understand how his neck wasn’t broken. “Look at those knuckleheads,” Natalie said. It made me nervous, even though of course I wouldn’t be trying anything nearly as dangerous. I just thought of how unpleasant it would be to be carried out from Tuckerman’s on a stretcher – it’s a long, jolting way down.
After lunch, half the group bootpacked up to the summit so they could ski in the Great Gulf, where it was less crowded. The three of us with nordic skis stayed in the bowl, hiking and sliding our way down through the rocks and scrub to the bottom. Sarah and Ida hiked over the rocks to the Right Gully, and skied down from there.
Hannah, Natalie and I decided to tackle the left side of the bowl. We hiked up to a set of rocks below the Chute, and looked down. It was steep, but not too steep (not compared to the terrain I foolishly attempted to ski in Colorado this summer…); the difficulty was more that the snow was heavy, thick slush, and there wasn’t much chance we could push it around with our skinny, light skis.
Hannah tackled the problem by doing telemark turns. They weren’t the as graceful as turns on real telemark skis, and she fell every once in a while, but they worked. She was having fun.
As for me, well, I can’t do tele turns. As far as I could see, this left me only one option: jump turns. The first run, I did okay turning to one direction (as long as I didn’t get up too much speed), but the other way I crashed every time. Once we got down to the shallow bottom of the bowl, we could step around the turns and go faster. It was fun.
We immediately hiked back up to those rocks. People started asking us, so what trick are you going to do this time? We would smile and laugh and say we didn’t have too many tricks up our sleeves. That time, I think I made it down the whole way down jump-turning without any falls. I was feeling pretty good about myself.
The third time, of course, I was overconfident and fell on almost every turn. But so it goes. We were enjoying ourselves, enjoying the sun, enjoying the atmosphere; there was nothing that could make the day better, it seemed.
And we were sad when, after a few more runs, the time came to leave the bowl and head back down the mountain. Couldn’t we just stay there forever? Did we really have to go back to school? And did Natalie have to go back to Bates? Why couldn’t she just hang out with me all the time? We were exhausted from the sun, and the ride back was quiet. I was just glad I’d had the chance to experience Tuckerman’s once before I graduated.