All In: The Only Way Out is Down

One writer interviews students who skied Tuckerman Ravine, while reflecting on her own journey down the run.

by Tess Bowler | 4/19/23 2:15am

Courtesy of Tess Bowler

This Sunday, after many falls, curse words and newly formed bruises on my body, I discovered I’m not nearly as good of a skier as I thought I was. 

It all started when I had a little too much fun on Saint Patrick’s Day in my hometown. After showing my high school friends some photos of the New Hampshire winter, I texted my boyfriend asking if we could ski Tuckerman Ravine next winter — the steep bowl of Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast. This was something he had done several times before, but I had never even attempted. His response: We can actually ski Tucks this spring.

Before receiving that text, skiing in April was something that never crossed my mind. I thought that once temperatures hit 70 degrees Fahrenheit, like they did this weekend, skiing season was dead on arrival. My assumption may have been naive, but let me defend my thought-process here: Unlike the many people that come from all over New England to hunt down the few surviving runs, I don’t really consider myself outdoorsy. Sure, I’ve always been active — as a kid, I played outside a lot and competed in every sport under the sun — but in the flatlands of Nebraska, where I grew up, the closest thing we have to a proper hike is a large hill. Don’t even get me started on the skiing options. 

So, standing at the base of Mount Washington in a parking lot full of experienced outdoorsmen and women with their strange, expensive-looking gear, I couldn’t help but think I was a little in over my head — that I was flying blind. Others, however, knew more or less what they were getting into.

Early Tuesday morning, I spoke to Ryan Cooper ’25 on the phone as he drove up to Mount Washington for not the first, but the second time this past week. Last Thursday, Cooper and five other Dartmouth students trekked to Huntington Ravine hoping to ice climb, but they found the ice too unstable due to the high temperatures. Instead, they skinned from the base of Yale Gully in Huntington Ravine, where they then traversed from the top of Yale across the Alpine Garden to The Lip, a run on Tucks, in order to ski the bowl. 

While Cooper said he had been to “Mount Washington and Huntington Ravine dozens of times” for climbing, this was the only time he’s ever skied down Tucks, which he described as the “premier backcountry destination on the East coast.” 

“It was the first time I’ve done that kind of skiing — very steep [skiing] with a lot of [equipment] on you,” Cooper said. “Committing to the steep section was mentally tough.” 

Though Kiki Levy ’24, a member of Dartmouth’s Ski Patrol, was born to two ski-loving parents and has considerable experience with backcountry skiing, this weekend was also her first time attempting Tucks.

“Doing Tucks was always something that I pushed off last year because I had a midterm or something I felt was more important,” Levy said. “But [this weekend] ended up being one of my favorite Dartmouth weekends ever. It’s kind of a [risk], but it’s so worth it.” 

I thought that after Tucks I would be able to preach about how rewarding it is to try something new, and that though you might not succeed at first, you can ultimately learn something greater about yourself from that experience. 

But the reality that I faced was much less poetic than that. Skiing Tucks was more or less a cycle of falling, getting up, attempting to jump, turning, falling again, twisting my skis, getting really mad at myself and trying not to show it. And I'm not even mentioning the hike to the top of the run which requires skiers to climb 1,100 feet at a steady, steep incline in their ski boots. 

I’ll admit it: Like most students at Dartmouth, I am a high achiever — unfamiliar and uncomfortable with failure — so when I try something and I’m not good at it, that's the end of the story. But just as I was beginning to go down a cynical rabbit hole as I reflected on my lap, I thought about what I was doing this time last year – or rather, what I was not doing this time last year. And I definitely wasn’t hiking up part of Mount Washington and skiing down Hillman’s Highway, a run next to Tucks’ main bowl. 

When I was younger, I skied a lot. My father’s family is full of big skiers and I had aunts, uncles and cousins on my mother’s side that lived in Colorado, so we often went on trips to visit them or go skiing nearby in Utah. But late in middle school — the part of life where you suddenly become conscious of how dangerous things actually are — I had an incident when I was night skiing in Vail, lost control and nearly fell off a steep cliff. Though I walked away from this moment injury-free, it instilled one of my first real fears within me. As a consequence, I shied away from skiing entirely, always coming up with frail excuses as to why my family shouldn’t go on trips to Utah anymore or why I preferred hanging out in the lodge. 

When I came to Dartmouth, I hadn’t skied in over 6 years. But amongst the mountains of New Hampshire, I figured that I couldn’t avoid it, so I might as well embrace it. What started as a few blue runs at the Skiway my freshman winter later turned into days spent at Sugarbush, my first time skinning my sophomore winter and finally Tucks this spring. 

About a little more than halfway down Hillman’s Highway, I finally managed to land a jump turn. Though I had failed to land it more times than I’d like to admit, I came out with a sense of overwhelming fulfillment and a smile on my face. For most skiers this move is nothing to write home about, but several years ago, I wouldn’t have ever imagined that I could have even attempted something like this, let alone that I picked up skiing again. 

So, maybe there is something to be said for failure. Fall on your ass, get up, and try again. Bruises only last for a little while.