Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuckerman Ravine’s Greatest Friend

Al Risch doesn’t wear a hat when he skis. It could be 20 degrees F. outside, as it was recently at Sugarbush Resort in Vermont, and there’s Al. No hat, no helmet, ears bright red. “Hats make my head itch,” he tells us as we set off on one of the resort’s signature intermediate trails.

When Risch worked at Cranmore Mountain Resort in New Hampshire, they say you could tell it was a really cold day, way too cold to ski, if you saw Risch in a hat, although truth be told, it was usually just a hood. “My ears just freeze up and peel, they don’t care.”

When Al tells us he’s climbed to Tuckerman Ravine, the southeastern flank of 6,288-ft. Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, over 630 times, somehow we’re not surprised. As executive director of Friends of Tuckerman Ravine, he knows that steep, 50+ degree glacial cirque – a backcountry ski destination since the early 20th century – perhaps better than anyone else alive.

Risch, who tells us that at the age of 78 he’s “half-way to middle age because I’m going to live to be 156,” learned to ski on a rope tow at age five. He first climbed Tuckerman in 1959 and has had a few close calls since. Like the time he decided to glissade down the east snowfields on his boots, without skis, then hit boilerplate ice and had to grab at rocks, twigs, anything to arrest a death slide. He said that before he could slow his descent, “I could visualize a plaque on the mountain, ‘Here Lies Al Risch.’”

He continues, “There were people in the bowl, but no one saw me. Next time I’ll look before I leap.”
Then there was the time he lost most of his index finger to a lawn mower accident. Kids love it when he pretends to pick his nose, seemingly right up to his base knuckle.

Today Risch is perhaps Tuckerman Ravine’s greatest friend, head of an organization of 1,000 outdoor enthusiasts passionate about protecting this fragile environment for future generations of people, plants and animals.

Says Eric Friedman, advisory council member of Friends of Tuckerman Ravine and marketing director of Mad River Glen in Vermont, "Al Risch is without question the biggest advocate for arguably the most important piece of backcountry ski real estate in New England. We and our progeny owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for his commitment and perseverance for Tuckerman Ravine."

The Tuckerman mystique is threatened by overuse and shrinking federal support for the Forest Service which has managed and protected the ravine since the early 1930's. Friends of Tuckerman Ravine has built a foot bridge to an overflow parking lot, purchased new emergency radios, replenished first aid caches, and plans to install new avalanche warning boards.

“Tuckerman Ravine has a mythic quality,” Risch says. “You have to hike up, there’s no mechanization. It’s a mecca for backcountry skiers who can make a pilgrimage back to the source.”

A tip of the hat from Expedition News for keeping the legend of Tuckerman alive.

(For more information: www.friendsoftuckerman.org).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing such a nice information from this blog. I found it so interesting at last i found now what i am looking for.Please continue the good work and I look forward to more of your nice posts in creating the new SharePoint group. Its great. sonic game