On the Slopes of Big Sky

There’s nothing like Winter Carnival to awaken the spirit, and today marks the start of our 106th Annual Winter Carnival at Dartmouth. At the center of that storied tradition is, of course, competitive skiing, and I hope this weekend will be marked by yet another victory by our Big Green ski teams! For more on the competition, check out this piece in Dartmouth News.

Gail and I had the pleasure of doing some skiing of our own in Big Sky, Montana, over winter break. Ski conditions were fantastic. But the highlight of our trip was a Dartmouth event, a “Gathering of the Green” generously hosted by Dave Mott ’86 and his wife, Alice. Notably, 120 Dartmouth faithful joined us that evening in Big Sky. Yes, you read that right. Dartmouth folks turned out in full force — alumni from across the generations, including a number of recent graduates, as well as current students and families. We even had three newly admitted students into the Class of 2021 and their families join us for the occasion.

As the evening closed, I was puzzled as to why so many Dartmouth people would congregate at Big Sky. But it strikes me that inherent in skiing, and outdoor activity, in general, are some of the very same values shared by our institution: an adventuresome spirit, an appreciation for the inspiration and humility that come from magnificent surroundings, the sense of community born out of confronting a shared challenge, whether physical or intellectual.  

Perhaps that’s what led Fred Harris from the Class of 1911 to rally our campus around the great outdoors more than a century ago. Fred, of course, founded our beloved Dartmouth Outing Club in the winter of 1909-10 – an organization that, today, is more than 1500 student members strong and part of the very fabric of our Dartmouth community – before masterminding the first-ever Winter Carnival the following year. It’s no wonder that Money magazine recently ranked Dartmouth among the Top 10 Colleges for people who love the outdoors.

The Dartmouth community knows all too well the thrill that comes from forging new paths, on the slopes and trails, in the classroom, and in their fields. It’s what binds us together. Nowhere is this more evident than in Dartmouth’s impact on skiing, itself.

Without a doubt, Dartmouth has made its mark on competitive skiing, from hosting the first-ever U.S. intercollegiate ski meet in Hanover in 1915, to producing more than 100 Olympic and Paralympic skiers and snowboarders since the Winter Olympics began. But in addition to competitive success, Dartmouth alums have applied their trademark innovation, leadership skills and pioneering spirit to nearly every aspect of the ski industry. They designed the very first overhead j-bar cable ski lift, constructed at Dartmouth’s own Oak Hill in 1936, and invented the first grooming equipment in 1952. They’ve founded, developed and managed of over 40 ski areas across the U.S. They’ve even proven the impossible possible, as Bill Briggs, a Dartmouth ’54, successfully descended from the summit of Grand Teton in the early 1970s when no one thought it could be done, literally paving the way for the modern extreme skiing movement. (Those of you interested in learning more about Dartmouth’s ski history should check out the book Passion for Skiing by Stephen Waterhouse.)

Today, the DOC, our Skiway and Oak Hill venues, and events like Winter Carnival continue to build community, provide opportunities for experiential learning and leadership, and foster innovation.

So, I hope to see you embracing the Winter Carnival tradition this weekend. Take in the ski races. Try your hand at ice carving. Take a dip in Occom Pond as part of the legendary Polar Bear Swim. And for those of you inclined to take to the slopes and trails, I can promise you’ll like where they lead.