The first schuss of the headwall
Little-known ravine feat in 1932 preceded Matt's 1939 race schuss
By Tom Eastman
The Conway Daily Sun
April 19, 2008
PINKHAM NOTCH — While Toni Matt's legendary schuss of the Tuckerman headwall in the 1939 Tuckerman Inferno has been much heralded over the years, a little-known ski history fact is that a visiting Norwegian ski jumper named Sigmund Ruud became the first to schuss the 800-foot vertical drop a few months after competing in the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympics.
According to an article by John Holden in the February 1954 issue of SKI Magazine, Ruud made his schuss the first weekend of May that year. He was 24 years old at the time of his feat.
Holden wrote that he and fellow skiers Adams Carter, Stanton Smith and Charlie Parker were making their way to the floor of the ravine and enjoying themselves, despite the day's rain.
“There was not much wind and the visibility was fair,” wrote Holden. “When we got onto the floor of the ravine, we noticed a very small figure way up between the rocks. He was sidestepping steadily higher and it was a long time before we could stop speculating about the kind of run that he was going to make. I expected he would make one turn and fall the rest of the way. This day the whole ravine was smooth fast corn and the floor was twice as long as it usually is.
“The small figure was just climbing. He got just to the point where the slope begins to get gradual again.
“Even at that distance we could see the jump form the horizontal to the fall line. We also noticed the little shove with the poles which brought his chin more forward. No turns, no stems; this was really straight down. The crouch seemed very low, like a jumper approaching a takeoff. As he got to us there was a grin all over his face. He was a little blond guy and that grin was sheer happiness. He circled the foot of the floor and coasted a good halfway back to the lunch rock.
“As he came by, I said ... that if I didn't know Sigmund Ruud had gone back to Norway I would swear that was he. A friendly kid nearby said, ‘You're wrong. That is Sigmund Ruud and he didn't go back to Norway. He was flown to New York right after the Olympic jumping with acute appendicitis. He's on his way back to Norway now after this last fling in the states.” Strand Michaelson had brought him from New York to Greenfield, Mass., and Charlie Parker, our informant, had taken him the rest of the way.
“By this time he had approached the group and Charlie had made the introductions. Sigmund sang his words in the Scandahuvian [sic] manner, ‘You really got somet'ing here. At Placid, ve ver sheeing on ice, med, rocks, og stumps. Aye am vey out of shape. Aye better take et easy.’
“Sigmund said he was fair at downhill but he really needed practice at slalom. We broke the tops off a lot of alders and set a course which started where things looked pretty steep to an expert. As he set the course, he elaborated on his weakness in slalom. Then he let me run it first. I had luck and stood up all the way down. As I turned to watch him I think I was secretly thrilled to think that here at last I might be just as good as he was. He started out conventionally enough, but when he got to our flush, he skated through. My sense of superiority died a sudden death. He thought the course was too slow, so the next time up he climbed for 50 yards straight above the first pair of flags. That time at least he didn't skate through “I will have to admit that conditions were ideal that day in spite of the rain. There were only eight or nine of us up there. The floor was much longer than usual, and the whole ravine was smooth and uniformly fast. Even so, when skiers start talking about how much skiing has advanced in the last few years, I like to think of that day. Anyone who thinks he must defend the modern age by schussing the headwall on a crowded Sunday with 6,000 sitzmarkers crossing the floor at the same time, with a groove so deep a six-foot man can hardly see over the edge of it running along under the steepest part and with six different snow conditions irregularly checkered across the ravine, has missed the point of this tale.”
North Conway's Jeff Leich, executive director of the New England Ski Museum, says Ruud's feat does not detract from Matt's legendary schuss. Leich is on the board of Friends of Tuckerman Ravine, and he wrote a book for the New England Ski Museum entitled, "Over the Headwall."
"Ruud made his schuss from a standing start and he wasn't in a race; Toni [Matt] did his from the top of the mountain, and he was racing in the Inferno. It's just interesting to think of Ruud doing that, on that crude equipment, two years before the first Inferno and seven years before Toni's schuss,” said Leich. “Both were significant achievements — as were all those racers in the 1930s, including Dick Durrance, winner of the 1934 Inferno. It is crazy when you think of those guys going up there and skiing on that stuff.”
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Ruud and his brothers, Birger and Asbjorn, were well-known ski jumpers during an era when jumping and Nordic skiing exceeded alpine skiing in popularity, according to Leich. As the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia notes, at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Sigmund earned a silver medal in the ski-jumping competition. At the 1929 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, he won the ski-jumping competition while earning a bronze at the 1930 event. Sigmund also competed in the ski-jumping competition at the Holmenkollen ski festival, which first began in 1933. He also competed at the 1932 Winter Olympics in ski jumping, but finished seventh at those games. Additionally, Sigmund competed in the first alpine skiing events at the 1936 Winter Olympics, though he did not finish.
Sigmund and fellow Norwegian ski jumper Jacob Tullin Thams are considered co-creators of the Kongsberger technique after World War I, a ski-jumping technique that was the standard until it was superseded by the Daescher technique in the 1950s.
For his contributions in ski jumping, Sigmund earned the Holmenkollen medal in 1949, the last of the three Ruud brothers to do so. Ironically, Sigmund was the only one of the three not to win the Holmenkollen ski-jumping competition.
Sigmund was born Dec. 30, 1907 and died April 7, 1994.