Since the late 1800s, thousands have made the trek up to the Tuckerman Ravine area on Mount Washington.

The gullies, chutes, and snowfields on the eastern flank are hallowed ground, a sanctuary of steep, where legends are born and history made. The mystery and enticement of the region have created enough history to fill the many books written throughout the years. We have gathered togther some of the most notable facts, and dug a bit deeper to find a few lesser-known tidbits that otherwise may be lost in time. Please let us know about potential corrections or if you have some of your own information to share. Enjoy!

1Tuckerman Ravine is actually a glacial cirque (from the Latin word circus), which is an amphitheater-like valley formed by glacial erosion. Sloping eastward on the southeast face of Mount Washington, an enormous amount of snow (at times reaching 40-50 feet deep) is carried from the west side of the mountain to the east side, filling the major ravines, notably Tuckerman and Huntington ravines. Geologists actually recognize 13 glacial cirques in the Presidential Range.

2There is evidence that a local glacier existed in the Great Gulf, north of Tuckerman Ravine, after the meltdown of the last continental ice sheet.

tuckerman painting

Tuckerman Ravine or Tuckerman’s Ravine?

3Tuckerman Ravine is named after botanist Edward Tuckerman, who studied alpine plants and lichens during the summers from 1837 to 1853. Tuckerman’s name was linked to the ravine around 1848, when artist Godfrey Frankenstein produced a painting titled Mount Washington, Over Tuckerman’s Ravine.

tuckerman ravine snow arch

Tuckerman Ravine snow arch in 1862

4Naturalist Henry David Thoreau visited Tuckerman Ravine in 1858, and sprained his ankle slipping from the infamous snow arch, an annual remnant of melting deep winter snowfields. Thoreau suffered intense embarrassment when his guide started a small forest fire that swept the floor of the ravine.

5The summit of Washington was home to a daily newspaper named Among the Clouds, which existed from 1885-1917.

6The first person to ski on Mount Washington was Dr. Wiskott from Breslau, Germany, in 1899. The first known ascent on skis came in 1913, when three members of a large party of the newly formed Dartmouth Outing Club (DOC) skied all the way up the carriage road. DOC skiers would go on to pioneer new ski routes on Mount Washington for the next 35 years.

7The first person to ski Tuckerman is believed to be John S. Apperson of Schenectady, New York. Apperson was an accomplished climber, skier, and environmentalist from the Adirondack Mountains who visited the ravine in March of 1914.

8The road through Pinkham Notch was first plowed in 1928, allowing skiers to reach the trail to the ravine without first traveling the 9 miles from Jackson or Gorham.

9Forester Henry Ives Baldwin was among the first to publicize Tuckerman Ravine as a spring skiing destination when he wrote an article about a June 1926 trip in an AMC journal. The snow that winter would not completely melt away before the first snowfalls of the winter of 1927 arrived, a phenomenon not observed since then.

10In 1931, Dartmouth skiers, John Carleton and Charley Proctor, who skied for the U.S. in the winter Olympics, were the first to ski the headwall. They climbed up the route, now called the Lip, to the top of the headwall, and then making jump turns in breakable crust, skied down over the 45-degree snow wall. Carleton fell high up on the run but recovered, while Proctor stayed upright for the entire run. They returned for a second run that same day.

11A week later, Harvard skiers Robert Livermore, Brad Trafford, and Robert Balch, became the first to ski from the summit of Washington down over the headwall. This group and others would go on to found the Hochgebirge Ski Club of Franconia, the oldest continuously operating downhill ski club in the United States.

12Tradition says a woman named Mary Bird is likely the first woman to ski over the headwall in 1936. Bird was one of the best female racers of the day, who had learned to ski from Hannes Schneider’s ski school in St. Anton, and who was the first American woman ski instructor.

13On April 16, 1933, the first Inferno was run from the summit down Right Gully through the ravine and down the hiking trail to Pinkham Notch. Hollis Philips won with a time of 14:41.3.

14The second Inferno was held in 1934, with young racing sensation Dick Durrance, who had learned to ski in Europe, the winner in 12:35.0. This time, the race entered the ravine over the precipitous Lip of the Headwall. Durrance, like most of the racers in 1933, had never skied the Headwall before the race.

15On April 4, 1937, the first giant slalom race in the U.S., the Franklin Edson Memorial Race, was held. Intended to begin at the summit, the race began halfway up Right Gully as two recent surface avalanches hinted to potential trouble on the headwall. This race has been well-documented, thanks to the infamous photograph by Harold Orne (photo below).

Tuckerman Ravine Inferno 1937

April 4, 1937, the first giant slalom race in the U.S … and avalanche control.

16The interest surrounding the 1937 race is multifaceted. Swiss-born Dartmouth coach and coursesetter Watler Prager and his team, attempted to trigger additional slides on the headwall with dynamite charges just before the race. This is likely the earliest use of explosives for avalanche control in the East. Though unsuccessful in their attempts, not a single injury was incurred during the race, an impressive feat, especially at the time.

Dick Durrance races through gates

Dick Durrance races through gates on the Little Headwall on his way to winning the 2nd American Inferno, 1934. Brooks Dodge collection.

17The third American Inferno was held on April 16, 1939, with 42 skiers participating. To reach the start of the race, they had to hike 4 miles and 4,000 vertical feet up the course.  Among the racers was Toni Matt, a young Austrian ski instructor who had spent the winter working for the Eastern Slope Ski School at Mount Cranmore. Though he had bib number four, Matt ran third, ahead of Dick Durrance, who had to adjust his equipment at the last moment.

On his hike up, Matt decided he would make three turns over the steepest part of the Headwall, then straighten out for the outrun. He made his three turns and then straightened, only to discover that he had no chance to turn, riding the wall down, shooting across the ravine floor, down the Little Headwall, to the Sherburne Ski Trail, finishing in 6:29.2, cutting the old record almost in half. Recalling the event in later years, Matt stated he felt lucky to be “19, stupid, and have strong legs.”

18The Mount Washington Observatory was founded in 1932 (though the history of weather observation on Mount Washington goes back to the winter of 1870-1871). Joseph B. Dodge, who served as hutmaster for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and three others, started the Mount Washington Observatory. The Observatory’s first home, the 1908-built stage office of the Mount Washington Summit Road Company. On April 12, 1934, the Observatory recorded a wind speed record of 231 miles per hour. Used by skiers and hikers regularly, the Observatory continues to post the “Higher Summits” forecasts daily.

19The Cutler River drains Tuckerman Ravine, which would typically freeze solid enough to provide an easier route into and out of the ravine area. In 1932, a nearby summer footpath, initially known as the Fire Trail, was rerouted with switchbacks and widened.

20In 1934, uphill traffic and downhill skiing could finally be separated when an even wider trail was cut by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), specifically for downhill skiing. The Fire Trail would eventually be named The Tuckerman Ravine Trail, and the downhill run would be named after John H. Sherburne, Jr.; racer of two Tuckerman Infernos and instrumental in developing the 2.5-mile classic New England ski trail, which runs from the Hermit Lake cabin down to the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.

Tuckerman Hojo's

Howard Johnson’s in the Ravine

21How did “HoJo’s” get its name? The Hermit Lake cabin at the base of the ravine had a roofline similar to Howard Johnson’s roadside restaurants, which were then springing up throughout New England.

Brooks Dodge ski technique

Brooks Dodge 

22Brooks Dodge, son of Joseph B, Dodge, grew up in the 1940s and felt there was a need for a ski technique that would allow for shorter, more precise turns. He perfected a two-pole turn in which he planted both poles, jumped his tails off the snow while keeping his tips brushing the surface and his upper body facing downhill, then pivoted his skis into an edge-set and prepared for a new turn. This turn allowed Dodge to ski in a narrow corridor while maintaining tight control of the vertical drop of each turn in the steep gullies of the ravine. Through the late 1940s and early 1950s, Dodge pioneered a dozen new routes and would do much to develop ski racing. He remained an active skier into the 1980s.

23The Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol (MWVSP) is among the oldest and most history-rich Ski Patrols in the United States. It was founded in 1939 by Henry “Swampy” Paris, originally as the “Mount Washington Safety Patrol.” Now part of the National Ski Patrol – Eastern Division, the MWVSP proudly serves as part of the NSP New Hampshire Region, patrolling Tuckerman and Huntington ravines from late winter through the end of May for each spring skiing season.

24In 1950, the United States Forest Service (USFS) built a cabin at Hermit Lake at the base of the ravine, and avalanche “forecasting” officially began for Tuckerman Ravine. The Mount Washington Avalanche Center now publishes a daily avalanche forecast, usually by 7 a.m., from late October until the end of May. The forecast provides avalanche safety information for people recreating, working, or traveling in the Presidential Range.

US Forest Service Avalauncher

Avalanche-control methods in the 1960s

25In 1966 a US Forest Service Avalauncher misfired, causing an explosive round to ignite in the device’s barrel, injuring two snow rangers. Officials of the White Mountain National Forest experimented with avalanche-control methods ranging from explosives to area closures from the 1950s into the 1980s, before adopting an advisory approach that relies on daily condition and hazard reports prepared by on-site rangers trained in snow science.

26Well-known ski movie producer Warren Miller climbed Tuckerman Ravine in 1984 to film extreme skier Greg Smith, who owns one of the most insane cliff jumps in Tuckerman history, for his movie Ski Country. Miller would later quote, “Skiing down Tuckerman Ravine once is a fine experience; skiing it twice is a dumb experience.”

Al Risch directs a skier into an awaiting copter for a guided trip  to the summit of Washington in 1979. Jake Risch collection.

Al Risch (Founder of Friends of Tuckerman Ravine) directs a skier into an awaiting copter for a guided trip to the summit of Washington in 1979. Jake Risch collection.

27Heli-skiing in the East? In the late ‘70s and early ’80s, Al and Alison Risch operated Mt. Washington Summit Trips, the East Coast’s only helicopter ski operation. The trips were a single lift to the summit, taking off and landing on the Auto Road. The early trips were fully guided, and later trips were only offered to vetted experienced “Mount. Washington Skiers.”  The USFS initiated a closure on mechanized access to skiing in the Cutler River drainage in 1987 when the Cog Railway announced they would also start offering weekend ski trains to the summit.

28Ski racing returned to Tuckerman Ravine for the 1969 Inferno and 1984 Tuckerman Ravine Classic. When long-time snow ranger Brad Ray and Mount Washington fixture Al Risch founded the Friends of Tuckerman Ravine in 2000, the Inferno was reimagined as a five-event adventure pentathlon that included a Giant Slalom ski race on Mount Washington as one of its stages.

This new Inferno has been run since 2001, and will return with a new and exciting format in 2025. The Friends of Tuckerman Ravine has recently merged with the White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation to form the Mount Washington Avalanche Center Foundation, providing direct support for avalanche forecasting and the snow ranger program.


SOURCES: New England Ski Museum, Friends of Tuckerman Ravine, Mount Washington Avalanche Center