It has already been twenty years since that memorable May trip at Tuckerman Ravine. A trip significantly edged in my brain due to the new friendship, love and commandery.
It was my 7th season of racing with Les Carabins de l’Université de Montréal, after another season of skiing small hills and race courses, training two-nights a week and racing and training on alternating weekends, it was time to ski bigger hills and verticals. Between time on the ski team, my thesis and dealing with students and papers, I had little time or money to escape from the Laurentians and ski on my own time and dime during the Winter. I didn’t mind the routine, but my university days as a student and racer were coming to an end.
A number of fellow racers generally had enough once the gates were gone, however I always looked for some May turns after a busy April on campus. This year’s team included a group of younger racers which, like myself, didn’t spend their youth ski racing and were motivated on getting any type of turns. Skiing at Whiteface and Tremblant late April turns was great.
One of those skiers was someone who would eventually be known as Lucky Luke. We had skied together at Whiteface and Tremblant. I believe it might have been at the Ski Circuit party at Chez Swan (I believe it’s now the location of Café Campus on Prince Arthur which used to be at the corner Queen Mary where the Second Cup is and next to the university back then), a few of us got talking making it to Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington. In the end, only three of us would make the trip. After looking at the weather and avalanche forecast, we circled on Thursday on the calendar with a departure from Montreal that Wednesday night.
Party Music heard in parties during my university years. Ski team parties were sometimes out of control – RIP MCA
The group consisted of JF, Luc and myself. I was the only one that had skied Tuckerman before, back in late May 1990 on the Victoria Day weekend. At that time I had stayed in the shelters at Hermit Lake. This time we drove overnight to Gorham to sleep at the Hikers’ Paradise. Driving in the dark, we talked about stuff, skiing, plus I had a girl on my mind.
Once in Gorham, we went to a now lost local bar. A fun evening mixed with brews and stoked about the following day. Forecast was warm and bluebird skies. At one point Lucky went to the washroom and didn’t come back, JF and I hadn’t really noticed as people were talking, playing pool and listening to music. All of sudden we heard Lucky yelling and banging on the washroom door. The washroom door was jammed – as someone let him out, we were all laughing.
Cool and bright the next morning. It was still fairly cold when we started the hike. I had my old yellow ski team jacket on and was carrying my skis on my shoulders. I had found the hike up the TRT with 205cm skis on my backpack to be a pain in the calves calfs hiking steeper part of trail or over boulders. Lucky was also carrying his skis on his shoulders. I believe he had created shoulders pads with foam that he ducktaped directly on his shoulders. JF was the only that used the conventional way with ski mounted on his backpack.
Madpat: 207cm long Rossignol 4S.
Lucky Luke: K2’s KVC 200cm strait as a 2X4.
JF: probably some 205 or 210cm Kneissl White Star.
The stoke level increase as we started getting a glimpse of Boot Spur and Lion’s Head and a cool breeze. The excitement raised a notch once we arrived at Hermit Lake, I was having a stomach cramps and wasn’t feeling too good. It might have been the excitement, but probably more to do with the breakfast. After a short break at Hojo’s and continued on to the Bowl. Once we reached the amphitheatre, we had the places almost to ourselves. I was feeling a bit woozy. I told JF and Lucky to take one run without me. They climbed straight up the Lip until I lost sight of them. After a long wait, they weren’t coming down, I started up as I wanted to ski. Stomach was still unset, but not enough to stop me from skiing. I climbed the lip. Although this wasn’t my first visit, this was my definitely the steepest climb. The slope was steep enough to have the tips of my skis hit the slope. At one point I had to take them off my shoulder and dig them horizontally as I climb every step of the steep bootpack, especially when a few steps didn’t have much snow and was more on less on ice near the crux of the slope.
This was my second climb out of Tuckerman Ravine, however the previous visit was during on a snowy white out day on Canadian Thanksgiving in mid-October 1991. Looking toward the summit, I could see two small dots, I wasn’t sure that if it was JF and Lucky. I waited until I managed to recognized them. We traversed above Tuckerman Ravine to drop into Left Gully. Lucky and I were somewhat impressed by the intimidating entry, although I had been out to West and skied Saudan Couloir (now named Couloir Extreme) at Blackcomb in June 1988. JF who had spent a Summer in New Zealand charged in if he was entry an intermediate slope.
One thing about JF, not much got him stressed even when his backwindshield shattered on the Autoroute at -25c, he continued on after asking the backpassenger with was myself, to clear the window at 70 mph. I had known him a few years on the ski team. He wasn’t part of the ‘A’ team and also they didn’t take himself too seriously. He left the team for a few years with the plan to drive down to South America with no itinerary or timeline in a beaten up Toyota Corrosion. This seemed to be an issue at one US border crossing and he was refused entry. On that trip, after an odd job in California, he bordered a plane for NZ where he thought skiing down under. When he came back a few months later, he found his car where he left it. Got in and continued his way south until he had everything in his car stolen in front of a police station somewhere in Mexico or Central America. He also mentioned that odd jobs weren’t enough to continue on his drive. Eventually started driving back and we back to the University and the ski team after being done for maybe one year or two?
So after JF dropped in, Lucky and I looked at ourselves and said ”Hell, we’re better skiers, we can do this”. After dropping in the 45-50 degree steep entrance, the rest seemed pretty mellow even if it was steeper than anything I had skied at a ski area. We stopped at the exit of LG in order to climb back up The Chute. I clicked off my skis on the steep slope and started going up the bootpack. Luke wasn’t so Lucky. I could hear a huge “Tabarn@k” echoing in the Bowl. As he clicked out of one ski to get set to climb, he lost control of his ski at it slide down the entire Bowl, so instead of climbing he had to ski down on one ski to fetch his other ski.
I just climbed the bottom half of Chute and skied towards Lunch Rocks as we decided to eat lunch. At this time, there were maybe two dozen skiers and hikers in Tuckerman Ravine. We were relaxing, eating, enjoying the scenery, the skiing, ours and the others making turns. I remember being in “ahhh” with our day and this place. A perfect bluebird and warm weather, the White Bowl and Sun increased the sun warmth. We heard ice falls crashing echoing the Bowl. All of sudden, someone yell “ICE” as rocks came crashing down towards Lunch Rocks. I remember leaping down onto the snow, piece of sandwich in my hand or the side and almost cartwheeling down. Lucky and JF had taken cover in the boulders. As I looked at my peanut butter sandwich, half of it had torn off when I ran away. A 12-18” rock landed we were having lunch. Note to self, Lunch rocks!!! 😕
After lunch, we climbed back the Lip and we decided to traverse towards Left Gully again. I wasn’t the easier way of going it, but we didn’t know any better back then as we didn’t see anyone climbing LG. Most of the skiers were skiing the bottom of the lower Bowl and climbing the bootpack all the way to the tiny crevasse. As we traversing, JF wanted to turn down before LG, in what is called “Chute”. We couldn’t see the bottom. We could see him skiing away as it was getting steeper and steeper. After that run, JF mentioned that it was really really steep. “Like skiing on the edge on a pool cue”. Lucky and I charged Left Gully, taking pictures at the same time with Luc’s camera. He was the only that hadn’t forgotten it.
We climbed up our backpacked at Lunch Rock for one last run out. We decided only to climb the bottom of the Bowl. As JF was coming down fast, he was slightly out of balance with his centre of gravity near one of the tips of his 205cm long skis. All of sudden, he just went over his skis and cartwheeled with his backpack. We could see this coming so much. After he got back up, we managed to ski down out of the Bowl via the Little Headwall. Skiing down the Sherburne Trail was a faster way down than hiking back down the TRT, however it didn’t make it easy as it was bumped out and my legs would have been toasted like my face and top of my head. A Sunscreen didn’t have the PSF level they do know…if I used some. There was snow 3/4 down. We rejoined the TRT hiking trail near the bottom switch backs.
You could stick a fork in us, we were done. A long drive to Montreal, once I got back home and left on a date with that girl. That was twenty years ago and JF is the only one I haven’t seem in years.
Tuckerman – 7 mai 1992