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A century of skiing on Mount Washington

By Tom Eastman
4-6-13-tuckermans-ravineThis year's good snowfall totals have created good conditions in Tuckerman Ravine, as seen March 30. Friends of Tuckerman Ravine is to present the Tuckerman Inferno April 20. For ravine conditions updates, visit www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org. (JAMIE BROTHERS PHOTO)PINKHAM NOTCH — With the (brief) arrival of warm temperatures last Saturday, the time-honored and busy spring Tuckerman ski season got under way on Mount Washington, with skiers' vehicles parked alongside Route 16 near the Appalachian Mountain Club's Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.
Skiing Tuck's is an annual rite of spring, and with the season now upon us, some local ski enthusiasts may be curious to ponder: Just who was the first to ski Mount Washington?
It's a matter of conjecture for some ski historians.

Wiskoff? Libby? DOC?
The first man to use skis on the 6,288-foot mountain, according to historian and author E. John B. Allen of the New England Ski Museum, was a Dr. Wiskott of Breslau, Germany, doing so in 1899, although there is some discussion about there not being much documentation to back that up, according to New England Ski Museum executive director Jeff Leich.
Some bestow the credit to Norman H. Libby of Bridgton, Maine.
In F. Allen Burt's book, “The Story of Mt. Washington,” published in 1960 by Dartmouth Press, Burt wrote that Libby was “the first man to slide down the mountain on skis.” Libby was assistant editor of the “Among the Clouds” mountaintop newspaper for two summers. He climbed from the Cog Railway base station accompanied by a railroad caretaker, performing the feat on Feb. 16, 1905.
But, said Leich in an interview this week, “It is unclear if he used skis at all.”
Libby returned with a friend two years later, according to Burt's book, making a 100-mile trip on skis from Bridgton, to Gorham, N.H. They ascended Pleasant Mountain on skis, and Mount Washington to the halfway point before switching over to ice creepers. But again, Leich said, “Libby and Chandler only used skis to the halfway point.”
Leich — a 1971 Dartmouth graduate and North Conway resident — contends that Dartmouth Outing Club members deserve the honor.
“I consider the March 1913 ascent by the DOC as the first documented ski ascent,” said Leich in an interview this week.
In that historic first, Leich says Dartmouth Outing Club founder Fred Harris, accompanied by its third president, Carl E. Shumway, and Joseph Cheney made their way “up the eight-mile Mount Washington Carriage Road on an uncharacteristically clear day with mild 19-degree temperatures on the summit. The road they took, long since re-named the Mount Washington Auto Road, runs for four miles above the timberline, and the group roped themselves together like alpinists for both the ascent and the run down the icy upper stretch.”
Leich referred to an article penned by Richard E. Tucker in the New England Ski Museum Journal Issue 57, Winter 2002-03 page 8, “Skis in Tuckerman Ravine.”
The day before, on March 9, 1913, when a snowstorm made an ascent of the summit not advisable, notes Leich, the same group led by Shumway and five others skied into Tuckerman Ravine, 1913 (page 7).
Leich, who is the award-winning author of the New England Ski Museum book, “Over the Headwall,” published in 1999, and republished in 2011, described the trek on skis to Tuckerman.
“The summit was clouds bound on the first day, March 9, so they skied into Tuck's instead for something to do. They did the lower two-thirds of the Mount Washington Carriage Road,” said Leich, “and then took the Raymond Path over to Hermit Lake and then up to the [Tuckerman] bowl to the Snow Arch Gully in the center part of the headwall. They skied down in a big snowstorm.”
This is how Shumway related the thrills of that first descent down the lower part of the Tuckerman headwall, in a story that ran a few days later in the March 15, 1913 Boston Evening Transcript.
“It [skiing Tuckerman Ravine] was one grand wild coast down through the ravine,” said Shumway. “The blizzard added a spice of uncertainty to the performance, for the boiling of the snow flurries in the great cauldron made it impossible to see. The frozen snow waves kept me rocking back and forth.”
Leich says the 1913 group was staying at the Glen House at the base of the Carriage Road.
“It's unclear what route they took out. They could have skied down the brook back to Pinkham Notch,” said Leich, “but they probably skied back the way they had come, back on the Raymond Path and over to the Carriage Road for the two-mile descent and back to the Glen House.”  
They then made their historic ski trek to the summit and back the following day, March 10, 1913 — a day that was an “uncharacteristically clear day with mild 19-degree temperatures on the summit,” notes Leich, who was part of the four-party group that re-enacted part of the feat 100 years and one day later on March 11, 2013 [see related story].

Centennial observed

In addition to Leich, other members of the recent centennial outing were Shumway's two grandsons, New England Ski Museum president and insurance company senior vice president Roger “Bo” Adams of Rochester and his brother, Charlie Adams of Ballston Lake, N.Y., and Bo's son, Wyatt Shumway Adams, 17.  
Being a ski historian (and avid skier), Leich says he first proposed the idea of a centennial trek to honor the Dartmouth Outing Club group's achievement to Bo Adams, his New England Ski Museum boss, earlier this winter.
“In writing the second edition of 'Over the Headwall,' in the context of writing about skiing in the ravine, I wanted to put a little historical background in there. So,” said Leich, “it was obvious that 2013 was going to be the centennial. So yeah, I mentioned it to Bo, and that's how we put the re-enactment together.”
Bo Adams was thrilled to get to go on the outing, accompanied by Leich, his brother, and son, and appreciative of the effort to honor his late maternal grandfather, Carl E. Shumway.
“My grandfather died in 1974 at age 85, and his funeral was held at Dartmouth,” said Adams. “He was quite the guy. To be part of this trek was very humbling for Charlie, Wyatt and I — to think back to what those guys had 100 years ago for equipment, and what they were able to accomplish is pretty remarkable.”
A member of the Dartmouth Class of 1913, Shumway was remembered by his grandson as “a real outdoorsman.”
“He was originally from Melrose, Mass.,” said Adams. “He loved to hunt and to ski. His dad was in advertising in Boston, and that is what he got into, advertising and promotion. One story I remember most clearly about him is that he and another Dartmouth guy [G.S. “Eric” Foster] skied from Hanover all the way to the top of Mount Moosilauke and back — it was the first time that many people had ever seen skis and they were surprised to see what they had on their feet.”
Shumway wrote about that five-day, 70-mile trek in Dartmouth Outing Club Outdoors 1913. He and Foster were the first to make the winter ascent of the mountain. That was in February 1912 — 13 months before their skiing ascent and descent on Mount Washington.
• • •
The Dartmouth Outing Club was formed in 1909. Devoted only to snowshoeing at first, it wasn’t long before the Dartmouth Outing Club boys were trying skiing. The first Dartmouth Winter Carnival was held in Hanover in 1911.
In time, the Dartmouth boys were joined by Harvard students, who had formed their own Stem-Like-Hell Club in 1928-29. Together, the two schools annually hosted a Harvard-Dartmouth slalom in Tuckerman Ravine in the 1930s.
Dartmouth-owned Moosilauke hosted the first downhill race in the United States in 1927, and the first U.S. National Downhill Championships in 1933. Eighty contestants were entered; only 69 finished.
The Mount Washington Carriage Road was the site of the first Mount Washington Spring Snow Fest in March 1932. Held under the auspices of the Nansen Ski Club and the Glen House, with timing handled by the AMC’s legendary huts manager, Joe Dodge, the day’s events were climaxed by a four-mile race down the Carriage Road, according to Leich in “Over the Headwall.”
True to what has since become tradition, Mount Washington served up a dose of horrible weather for that race. Five experts-three of whom went on to be members of the 1932 U.S. Olympic Team entered the race, with the winner, Ed Blood of the University of New Hampshire, crossing the finish line in a little over 12 minutes, just 25 seconds ahead of the last man.

The White Mountain CCC trails
The country faced hard times during the Great Depression of the early 1930s, but one offshoot of that — the Civilian Conservation Corps — proved to be beneficial to skiers in the White Mountains.
Beginning in 1933, the CCC blazed a number of ski trails throughout the region, including the notorious Wildcat Trail, a demanding and narrow run which has been replaced by a new trail of the same name at today’s Wildcat Mountain.
Ski enthusiasts could also bomb down CCC trails cut on the Liberty Trail on Mount Chocorua, Bear Mountain in Bartlett and the Maple Villa Trail in Intervale, Black Mountain and Doublehead in Jackson, the John Sherburne Trail in Pinkham Notch, and three now abandoned trails on Little Wildcat Mountain (the Go-Back, the Katzensteig and the Wildcat Col).

The American Infernos
American Inferno top-to-base races were held from the summit, over the Tuckerman Headwall and down the Sherburne Ski Trail in 1933, 1934 and 1939, with the Appalachian Mountain Club's Hollis Phillips winning the first, American ski great Dick Durrance the second, and Austrian skiing sensation Toni Matt the third with his legendary schuss of te headwall, and his incredible top-to-bottom time of 6 minutes, 29.2 seconds.
Soon, as skiing took hold, ropetows began proliferating. Moody's Farm, now Black Mountain, installed one of the first in 1935, followed by Cranmore's first lift-serviced season in January 1938. Numerous other slopes proliferated, including in this region at such places as Oak Hill in Conway (New England Lost Ski Areas Project, www.nelsap.org).
The first giant slalom race in the United States — the Franklin Edson Memorial Race — was held on Mount Washington on April 4, 1937, with Walter Prager, coach of the Dartmouth ski team, winning. Due to poor conditions on the headwall, the course was moved to the ravine's Right Gully and then down the Sherburne Trail to Pinkham Notch.
Today, the non-profit Friends of Tuckerman Ravine annually presents the Tuckerman Inferno Pentathlon and Wildcat Wildfire Pentathlon, both set for April 20. For more information, visit www.friendsoftuckerman.org.
It's all a link to what Shumway and company started with their ski trek, 100 years ago.
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