Kelly's Blog: Slalom Glade Opens

Friday, January 4, 2013

Did I get your attention?  You are correct, we do not have a trail called Slalom Glade.  We used to but the name was changed to Ripcord sometime after the trees were removed.  If you have never skied Ripcord, it is a double black diamond on the North Face and one of the steepest trails in New England.  It has a "try before you buy" feature - you can ski down River Run (intermediate) and stare up and watch others ski, ride or tumble down.

Our snowmakers have been very busy this week and the fruit of their labor is the opening of Ripcord and Committed.  I talked to office mate, Dave Rice, who lapped Ripcord 4 times yesterday.  He was all smiles and told me skiers right was perfect and skiers left was whales, but still fun.

I've always wondered why we installed snowmaking pipe on such a steep trail like Ripcord but not on a trail like Olympic or Hop.  To find out why, I went right to the source, Randy Barrows, our snowmaking manager.

Q:           Randy, where you here when we installed snowmaking on Ripcord?

A:            No – I heard stories they installed that somewhere around the late 70’s .  Randy started in 1983.

Q:           Was it called Slalom Glade or Ripcord when you started in 83?

A:            It was still called Slalom Glade but the trees had been removed.

Q:             How is it making snow on Ripcord?

A:             It is my favorite trail to make snow on.

Q:              Why?

A:              Because it is so steep it is a challenge.

Randy suggested that I call Paul Roy, who mans our snowmaking control center, to figure out why snowmaking was installed on Ripcord.  Paul started at Mount Snow in the 60's so he has some history under his belt.  Paul remembered that they installed snowmaking on Slalom Glade to ensure there would be snow for the infamous Glade-iator  bump race.  Which led me to my next ponder - when was the first Glade-iator?

After shooting the breeze with Randy and Paul it inspired me to do a little digging on the history of the North Face.  Three days later, this is what I was able to piece together.  Feel free to correct me if you have some intel that I may not have access to.  I used old Mount Snow trail guides, press releases and even hand written notes that chronicled the work done at the mountain each year.

I found some typed notes that stated in the 4th season (1957) the first trail on the North Face, Jaws of Death, was cut.  That season started on Dec 4th, 1957 and closed on April 23, 1958.  That was a long season for back then!  I am not sure if you could ski Jaws but the trail was cut.  I think they were hiking to it.

1957:  The trail map (see below) shows plans for the North Bowl, including 6 trails, a lift and a warming hut.  It seems like the name North Bowl was only used for a year or two.

1957 trail map

1959 for the 59-60 season:  I found hand written notes stating, "new construction opening an expert area North Face including Jaws of Death, PDF (Pretty Darn Fast) and Fallen Timbers – all trails with average grade of 26-34 degrees."  What I found interesting about these handwritten notes is that they indicated that PDF stands for Pretty Darn Fast.  We had learned that PDF stood for Peg, Dot and Fred, Walt’s wife and  friends.  The notes were from the Mount Snow news bureau so I took them to our Rotary meeting to see if Bette Crawford (used to work in the news bureau) recognized the hand writing.  She said it was not her writing and that she started working there in the 1960’s.  And she said they always called PDF, Pretty Darn Fast.  Hmmmm?  So I asked Laurie, who also worked in PR for many years and did a lot of research for the 40th and 50th anniversary.  She said she was told by Walt’s daughter and the “old timers” that it stood for Peg, Dot and Fred.   I’m going with Walt’s daughter as the accurate source on this one!  Even back then people were speculating on what PDF stood for.

1960:  In a news article it states that the North Face is open but skiers have to hike to the area or get towed by a snow cat.

The early 60’s also marks the time when owner, Walt Schoenknecht, commissioned the Atomic Energy Commission to explode an underground nuclear bomb to create a bowl for skiing and add more vertical feet. Walt also envisioned craters being formed that could be used as lakes for summer recreation.  Fortunately, wiser heads at the AEC prevailed and Walt’s request was denied.

Dennis, lift maintenance, shared this photo - poking fun of Walt's vision!

In a 1962 Eastern Skier Magazine, Walt is quoted as saying, “Before the war, horse-drawn equipment and small bulldozers kept ski area operators from utilizing prime terrain, but now huge earth-moving equipment and atomic power allows us to literally move mountains.”

Between 1959 and 1963 the same 3 trails were open on the North Face:  Jaws of Death, PDF and Fallen Timbers.  This 1962 – 1963 trail map (see photo) lists a  Bombardier Lift at the bottom of the North Face.  I have asked several people, including our lift guru, Dennis Bills, if they know what kind of lift that was.  Everyone remembers the rope tow that pulled people out to the flat spot on Somerset Rd and then you would skate to Snow Dance or Home Again (a trail that went down by the Boonies/One More Time - now a bike trail.)  We think the Bombardier Lift was the rope tow or skiers being pulled out by snow cat.  This map also indicates that there was a building down at the bottom of the North Face called the North Tore.  No one I talked to remembered that building.  Please let me know if you remember it!


1962-63 trail map

According to other literature I have it appears that they added 3 trails in the summer of 63:  Slalom Glade and 2 others.

1963 –With the opening of the North Face double chairlift, #10, a 4,500’ Carlevaro & Savio telecabine double, skiers no longer have an hour wait between runs. The North Face features six trails including the super-steep “Slalom Glade” (now Ripcord).

1979-80 Chute and Fallen Timbers get snowmaking.

1986 – still called Slalom Glade

Miscellaneous notes:

Chute was originally The Chute

From the 1969-70 map I was able to see that trail names have changed a bit over the years.  From skier’s right to left it used to be (see map):

River Run

Slalom Glade (Ripcord today)

Jaws of Death

PDF (Plummet today)

Challenger (Freefall today )

The Chute

Fallen Timbers


And Skyline at the top

69-70 trail map

I talked to Tom, another office mate, who has been here since the 70's and he remembers a poor snow year and he and a bunch of ski instructors were hired on contract but there wasn't much work for them.  Walt had the ski instructors go into the woods with ski patrol sleds and pack them up with snow and dump the snow out on the trail (Fallen Timbers.)

Tom asked me if I knew the story about the avalanche.  No, I didn't.  Tom told me that Bruce McCloy, the Marketing Director at the time, came up with the idea to cause an avalanche, as a marketing stunt.  I asked Randy if he remembered the avalanche and he remembered it a little differently.  Randy said that everyone was afraid Slalom Glade was going to slide or something like that.

What Randy did remember was his first year here when Ripcord slid 3 times.  Randy had just finished shutting down snowmaking and he was at the top of Ripcord.  He stepped down and felt the snow shift under his feet and thought it was a crack but as he looked over the head wall, the entire pitch had slid. He looked down and all of the snowmaking  guns were in the woods.  Randy pulled the guns out and set it all back up.  That eve the night crew had no problems but Randy got back up to Ripcord in the morning and the pitch fell again.  Randy told me that with all the avalanches that year, all the snow was at the bottom and that was the first year they started to winch Ripcord.

Oh yeah, back to the avalanche.  I decided to call Bruce McCloy, Mount Snow's Marketing Director at the time of the avalanche, to get the real story.  These days he has taken his marketing stunts to Mount Sunapee.  It was good to hear his voice and all I had to say was avalanche and he immediately fell into story telling mode.  It went something like this.

Back when it was still Slalom Glade we were going into President's weekend and we had every trail open except that one.  Now if you have ever met Bruce McCloy you know that going into President's Week with one trail closed was a reason to lose sleep.  So Bruce was having coffee with the Mountain Operations Director, Dave Buckley, and said, "You're pretty good with dynamite, right?"  Buckley replied, "yeah."  McCloy goes on to explain that if he could set off some dynamite at the very top of Slalom Glade, they could get the 3 ft of icy, snow build-up to dislodge and avalanche down and cover the trail.  Buckley replied, "great idea!"  And if you know Dave Buckley, you know that if it involves dynamite and a challenge, he's in!

McCloy sent out a press release and on the big day about 5 or 6 media folks show up.  Buckley drilled holes and set in 6 sticks of dynamite.  McCloy was stationed at the bottom with his media guests and they were hiding in the trees.  The lift mechanics were all sitting on their snowmobiles, urging McCloy to set it off so they could get back to work.

Finally the dynamite blew and create a gigantic explosion and a huge white ball hovered overhead.  The snow started to settle and about 15 chunks of snow, about the size of bowling balls, rolled down the face.

Buckley asked over the radio, "how's it look?"  And before Bruce could reply, a lift mechanic replied, "pockmarks!"  There were 6 deep holes where the dynamite went off but that was about it.  And McCloy had to go into the holiday week with one trail closed.

Hey, if you read to the end, thank you!  That was a long one.  I promise the next one will be shorter.  I love history so I got carried away.  But don't worry, I have no plans for dynamite this winter!


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