Winter Carnival redux

For many of us Winter Carnival made it worth putting up with the harsh New England winter and served as a welcome interlude. March vacation (somehow called Spring Break) seemed closer after the last round of ski jump competition.

Think about it: not just two games (soccer and football) but three days of competition, featuring downhill, giant slalom, slalom, cross country and perhaps the biggest crowd pleaser, ski jumping.

To refresh your memory, click here to see video highlights from 1966 Winter Carnival action (special thanks to expert cross-country skier and classmate Mark Donovan for providing the link).

A Winter Carnival queen (would not happen in today’s culture) was crowned, there was ice statue competition, some amazing concerts, and frenzied evening gymnastics to various rhythms to keep everyone warm. There were silk screen posters with exquisite artwork that announced the event.  Would that we had more to display here.

The atmosphere was always electric on Berlin Mountain. Last minute grooming of the slopes with the snow cat driven by the amazing gentleman from North Adams whom we knew as “Frenchie,” and ski coach Ralph Townsend putting in final touches to the slalom course he set so well each year, having already stymied the competition with his ultra secret waxing formulas for the cross country team that competed in Savoy Forest, several miles east of North Adams, just past a town called, yes, Florida.

On Berlin Mountain, there was a pseudo T-bar to get competitors up the mountain that sometimes worked. If not, you put your skis on your shoulder and climbed up. This prompted grumbles by the spoiled Dartmouth skiers, who knew that their best attempts to win the coveted Skimeister award would ultimately be foiled by our secret weapon, David Rikert ’67 who gave us 3 years of triumph and glory. We had plenty of expertise in our own class, too,  with classmates Ted “Rags” Ragdale (alpine/nordic), Steve Essley (jumper), and Spencer Beebe (alpine).

Ted Ragsdale at the gate, Prof. James Skinner, and Alexander Caskey (WOC)

More than once, snow managed to make itself scarce (an early sign of global warming?). Unfazed, Ralph Townsend conscripted unwitting freshmen and others to guarantee a softer landing on the ski jump by shovelling snow where it was needed. Think bucket brigade. Coach Ralph was also skilled at coaxing students to serve as gatekeepers for the alpine competition, and leveraged Williams Outing Club members to groom and maintain the cross country trails in Savoy in the off-season. He knew what he was doing.

Ski Coach Ralph Townsend


While the winter sports component of the 3 day celebration certainly captured our imagination, the après-ski events, featuring concerts by Dave Brubeck, Junior Walker and All Stars, The Jim Kweskin Jug Band, and The Velvet Underground among others.

Dave Brubeck and Joe Morello 1967

Junior Walker and the All Stars, 1968

Maria Muldaur of the hip Jim Kweskin Jug Band

John Cale, Lou Reed, and bandmates of the ultra hip Velvet Underground

Entranced audience of the Velvet Underground

None of these, it should be noted, required braving the cold or driving on icy roads. Ice statues sculpted in front of Chapin and the “residential units” (also known as row houses) sometimes challenged the rapidly evolving notion of decency. And it may be hard to remember who won the Carnival Queen award, since that type of event was already beginning to fade in importance.

Spring revival

For several members of the ski team and other skiers the carnival spirit lingered on, leading to a return to the upper section of Berlin Mountain. One last run on the corn snow, using Traditional Refreshment cans instead of slalom gates for guidance, few of which remained empty at the end of the competition.

View from slopes of Berlin Mountain Winter 1968 (Bob Lux)

One classmate, who wishes to remain anonymous, has contributed his own personal memory of Berlin Mountain, both during Winter Carnival, and after. You can find that here.

It should also be mentioned that it was during this season that two new sports emerged.

The first, baptized as the Tour de Freshman Quad, was a precursor to the Theater of Cruelty; you can find pictures here.

The second, known as snow surfing, had a Hawaiian heritage, and was practiced exclusively, on the sly, and at night on the Brodie Mountain Ski Area. Click here to learn about that.

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