Sometimes while riding a ski lift to the top of a mountain in the northeast, a quirky furious wind suddenly blasts out of nowhere. A bracing gust howls across a valley, provoking violent rocking of your chair suspended high on the liftline. The wind picks up a lot of light snow and you have to close your eyes. In the next second, while your chair is still rocking, there is no wind at all. A stillness settles. Then, from out of the woods, jumps a white column of snow perhaps forty feet high which seems to be the manifestation of some spirit.
The spirit can be read many ways. I am hesitant to describe, much less explain it, because it seems to contain much frustrated power in its whirling vortex. If you are not alert to the possibility of meaning in such occurrences, you could merely say that it resembles one of those long thin cones you catch cotton candy with, and let it go at that.
And if your mind is of slightly more questioning nature, and you need a name and an explanation, you could say they were like the baby twisters that hop over the Kansas highways in the summer. The kind that come with droughts, when the soil is too dry to grip the earth. There's a name for them in the encyclopaedia, but more can be divined.
When the white column crosses the slope its point swings like a pendulum, as though it is gathering momentum for a charge down the mountain. But then something seems to anger it and it will balks or pouts and leaps over the lift tower, quivering and shaking violently in paroxysms. As if two wills were fighting for it--one impelling it down the mountain trail, to swirl light-fingered down the moguls, and the other pulling back in horror from the touch of the slick ice or hard packed snow or rocks beneath the powdery surface fluff.
Pulling the lightest, featheriest almost invisible grains of snow up into its whirling column, it finally gathers its nerve enough to make one more attempt to overcome its revulsion, and it bustles down perhaps a couple of hundred feet along the surface before that contact with the base hard earth sucks the life out of it, its strength spent.
After the queer wind tries a few more times, it finally gives up. What follows is a broad sheet of wind come unrelenting to take away all the unattached grains of snow. The boilerplate ice and roots and rocks are uncovered and the sugarbowl give way to something desolate. In seasons as short of snow as recent ones, what little snow there is never quite gets a purchase on the mountain, and blows off into the valleys and trees. Who knows where it goes really? Where does a frustrated spirit sweep away the magic white dust? Why does that spirit return to the mountain?
* * *
One would not have to think hard to find some motivation for throwing a wrench into this year's Dartmouth Winter Carnival. This year's theme is the "Winterful World of Disney," honoring the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney productions. Now that Walt himself is dead, his genius has evaporated from the conglomerate, Walt's old yes-men are trying to figure out ways of remaking Mary Poppins and failing. In any case, the Carnival does not have enough snow to ski at Dartmouth. Howard Chivers, manager of the Skiway, said "this certainly is the worst winter for ski conditions in my memory. We have nothing on our slopes that could be called a base. It's a checker board of bare ground and ice patches."
The races will be spread out all over the land and the famous parties will suffer. The slalom and giant slalom will be held today at Waterville Valley, sixty miles to the northeast. The cross country run, with Dartmouth's own Tim Caldwell the heavy favorite, was run Thursday at Holderness Academy, forty miles to the north. Only the carefully prepared 40-meter jump will be held at the Carnival site on Saturday. The figures of Walt's mouse and duck and dog, lately sold as decals on t-shirts and coffee mugs, will be fitting monuments to this bad luck, disjointed season, to the spread out modern carnival.
Harvard's skiers have a chance to place at the Carnival races, but they should not hope to conquer as a team. Paul Finnegan is our best cross country man, but Dartmouth's Caldwell is thought by many to be the best in the land. Ben Steele, in the Alpine events, has the lowest FIS points in the field, but freshmen John MacComber of Dartmouth and Kirk Dice of Vermont are skiing like future members of the national team.
Eric Jewett, Gordon Adler, Scott Johnson, Peter Anton, and Tom Cavin will be on the Alpine team as well, but Dartmouth and Vermont probably have untouchable strength. As for the jumping, the winners will surely be Norwegian and be on full scholarship to schools like Vermont.
* * *
Whatever their fate at Dartmouth, the Harvard skiers couldn't have worse luck than Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, working on the script of Winter Carnival with Dartmouth graduate Budd Schulberg in Hollywood, was fighting a touch of tuberculosis when producer Walter Wanger told the two scriptwriters to report to the scene for atmosphere. Despite protests, Fitzgerald was herded on a plane from California to New York, and as his alcoholism got the better of him, he boarded a train to White River Junction with much distaste. By the time Fitzgerald arrived, he was sick, drunk and sleepless. And during the next few days Dartmouth College "honored" Fitzgerald by holding a seminar in which the professors criticized the script in progress. He left offended, and later attended a party at Alpha Delta at which he told everyone how great he had been until producer Wanger ordered him to leave. When Fitzgerald and Schulberg left, they retired to a coffee shop and dictated a parody script which began, "We fade in on the thin clear cold slope of the ski slide, and fade through the thin clear cold mind of a Dartmouth undergraduate."
An hour later, Schulberg helped Fitzgerald out into the night where they were confronted by Wanger who was so disgusted with Fitzgerald's disheveled condition that he fired him.