One feature from the immortal winter of 1969.
For more than forty years now I’ve been raving — thankfully, in awe — about the winter of 1969. For once we easterner skier had all the snow we could want. Up in Maine houses stayed buried for months. We had full snow cover at Sugarloaf from early November of 1968, and the resort closed its lifts long before there was a bare spot: we season ticket holders would have run the place ragged everyday into June without many new pennies trickling into the coffers. But that’s OK: by late April, and May, we had moved over to Mount Washington: to ski Tuckerman’s Ravine: for the first year in memory when the notorious Lip, 60 or so degrees steep, held snow, was actually skiable! (if you’re very strong and insanely brave, that is).
Hell, at Tuckerman’s Ravine that year I enjoyed winter conditions right through April! light, fresh snow: perfect.
We love the spring snow, but no way do we love it better than the dry winter snow.
And deep, dry, light powder is utter bliss.
That’s a wonderful view of the mountain, Tuckerman’s Ravine right in the center. It’s an unusual view, probably taken from the summit of Wildcat, the next mountain east. Here’s a view featuring the ravine: snow covered here, the famous Lip, super steep, actually holding snow.
I’ve told lots of ski stories from that year, some of them resurrected here after the fed censored all my work online, what astonishes me is discovering that I have yet to tell any part of my adventure kayaking the swollen Carabasset River that spring.
My best ski buddy was Hubie, a professor of German at Colby: where I taught English. Hubie also taught skiing on weekends at Sugarloaf (as did my other best ski buddy, my student, Buz). Hubie had a kayak that folded inside the car. He suggested that we white water the river. The laid off ski facutly had homes along the bank, they’d be out on their sun decks. We’d blow their minds, waving, as we whisked by them, riding the froth.
I chose an image that shows how rock-filled the river is. Well, in the swollen, violent river of spring 1969, most of those rocks were below the raging surface. I want to tell you: my bottom got pounded black and blue by many of them!
When we launched, we tightened a canvas tonneau around our necks, keep the interior water proof even if we were capsizing continuously: an entirely likely event. Actually, we never rolled, once, but the river yanked us under and smashed us every rock of the way.
Hubie and I paddled manfully, knowing we had to keep pace with the water or be totally overwhelmed. We withstood a stretch of a mile or so, and popped like a cork onto a calm stretch. That was it: head for the bank, glad to be alive, and attributing very little of our survival to skill. That river could have killed us every inch of the way. The tonneau was stretched between our necks like a spider’s drag line. A rock could have yo-yoed us like a flounder rig: a bay bottom flatfish bait spreader.
And that’s not the only near death experience I had on that river that same season: I walked out on the snow cover, Buz screaming at me not to. Could have fallen through and been swept away. I never expected to be seventy-three, it’s ridiculous that I am.
What a mess, but it’s a beginning. I’ll fill in other details, add ski stories from that season.
Gotta add: I skied the Lip that year, my dog’s fuss making us doubly famous. I stayed “vertical”: didn’t crash. The two guys ahead of me, both pros, flipped, did unintended 360s in the air before resuming contact with their skis: both of them.
But most memorable was opting away from the Ravine that Memorial Day to ski RayMond Cataract, around Lion’s Head, eastward. I didn’t realize till we were in the middle of it, too late to object, that we were skiing a waterfall: a veritcal cataract! while it was roaring its water!
Right down a narrow strip in the middle that was still frozen, and thus, skiable.
Oh, gotta add: when we were climbing toward Raymonds, climbing up Lion’s Head, we had to pass through an orchard that he been upended by that winter’s seismic avalanche. The fruit trees were in bloom, but gowling upside down! The buds were in the snow, their roots in the air.
But dig this: the avalanche was still settling! That orchard was moving! Undulating, slowly.
2017 08 07 I’m watching a doc of people living above the Arctic Circle. One guy is talking about how dangerous the ice is on the Yukon River: if the ice is thinner than you think and you plunge through, that’s it, goodbye, badbye, you’re gone. And I’m reminded of another brave and stupid thing I did that winter. The Carabasset River looked really wild where the road bridged across it in Kingston, Maine. My student / ski buddy Buz was riding back home with me and we pulled over by the bridge to tak a look. I got my camera and crept out onto the snow covering the ice (and white water, the ferocious current, everything out of sight). Bux warned me but I kept going, took pictures, crept back, still rpright, not drowned, not smashed to pieces. Did I see that it was safe? or safer than it looked? No, it looked dangerous as hell, and was. But I was lucky, once again.
Now I sit here at the Mac in Florida, and I’m astonished: how did I ever get to be still breathing here? 78, half deaf, half blind: still dancing like a live-wire.