Let’s say you’ve found yourself at the intersection of several ski trails, and you’re staring at a signpost.
The names might range from something as tame as Easy Street to a little more challenging like Nor’easter to something as diabolical as Satan’s Stairway. Which do you choose?
Often you will be influenced by the difficulty rating each trail gets, since the names tend to have less meaning beyond distinguishing themselves from one another. Sure, they can sometimes reinforce the rating — “Goat Path” sure sounds like a circle or square, while “White Heat” practically screams black diamond — but in the end, they’re just names.
Or are they?
There are more than 2,000 different trail names at New England’s ski areas, according to a database of New England downhill ski trail names created by the Globe. If many of them seem similar, it’s because they share a lot of common words.
There are 93 trails that use the word “run,” and 110 have “glade” or “glades” in them. “Line” is used 56 times, and “chute” 44 times. “Road,” “way,” and “bear” are also common. For this report, “upper” and “lower” were excluded since they almost always refer to sections of the same trail.
What’s the most common trail name in New England? It’s “Lift Line” or “Liftline,” with 22, although you could make the case for 23 if you included Wildcat’s clever variation of “Lift Lion” that is in keeping with the feline theme for its trail names.
“Exhibition” is second with 16, and “Chute” is third with 15, although that would jump to 21 if you included six trails named “The Chute.”
“The granddaddies of them all were the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] ski trails that got cut in the ’30s before there were lifts anywhere. I think right from day one they were naming trails,” said Jeff Leich, executive director of the New England Ski Museum in Franconia, N.H. “You had these names that would sort of give an air of daring so that when you were back in the office on Monday you could talk about skiing a trail not named after somebody, but a name that conveyed danger and daring.”
The origin of trail names runs the gamut from the whims of the CCC to those chosen by the founders and earliest staff of ski areas based on tributes, geography, local legends, and more. While every ski area has its names that follow the common conventions, there are many distinctive trail names.
“Walking Boss” at Loon is a perfect example.
“The trail is actually an homage to Loon’s founder, Governor Sherman Adams. After he graduated from Dartmouth College, he moved to Lincoln in 1923 and worked as a walking boss for the Parker-Young Co., managing lumber operations in the surrounding mountains. His job was to basically walk from logging camp to logging camp, overseeing operations,” said Loon spokesman Greg Kwasnik.
Many are named for specific people. Ralph’s Run at Wachusett Mountain is named for Ralph Crowley Sr., one of the ski area’s founders. Jimmy’s Run at Cranmore is named after Jimmy Mersereau, a mountain manager who died in 2010. Tuckered Out at Okemo’s Jackson Gore was named after the area’s former vice president of operations, Barry Tucker.
Countless other “Somebody’s” run, trail, slope, or glade — whether called by first or last name — can be found on trail maps across the region.
Some people merit their full name on a trail, like Perry Merrill at Stowe and Jay Peak, John Meck at Dartmouth Skiway, and John Grave at Bretton Woods, while at least one New England trail is named for three people. Smith-Walton at Wachusett honors two men from the Wachusett area who died climbing in the Grand Tetons, and another who died climbing Mount Washington.
Many mountains use themes. Pats Peak uses wind and weather names like East Wind, Cyclone, and Zephyr, while Saddleback’s trails are named for fishing flies, such as Royal Coachman, Woolly Bugger, and Gray Ghost.
Loon uses logging terms, and the longtime ski patrol director there, Jeff Martel, can give you the background on pretty much all of them, from Cruiser being a logger who walked the woods to scan which trees would be taken, to Flying Fox getting its name when Governor Adams was walking the then-unnamed trail and was startled by a fox darting down the hill.
Martel said he is frequently asked about the origin of trail names.
“Usually they just want to know what the trails mean,” Martel said. “I think that Walking Boss is one of the coolest names.”
Magic Mountain is all about magic, obviously. Gunstock focuses on firearms, and Whaleback and Maine’s Camden Snow Bowl use nautical words. The trails on Sunday River’s Oz Peak hint at the movie “The Wizard of Oz.”
Some trails are simply unusual, like “Stinky Street” at Cannon.
“Before there was a high-speed quad from the base of Cannon and before we created the Tuckerbrook family area, separate from the main mountain, Stinky Street was in a family zone where certain trails and areas had images of animals tacked to trees. . . . That trail had a skunk. Which may still be there. Back then, I’m not sure that trail had a name,” said Cannon’s Greg Keeler.
There are also names you don’t see on those trail signs.
“Ski patrollers tend to get into very detailed little naming segments so they can quickly refer to something. I do remember every little corner getting a name,” said Leich, a former ski patroller himself.
Interestingly, those skiers who prefer to stick to the bunny slope are actually out of luck in New England.
While there are 664 green circle trails, and six that use “bunny” in the name, only one is specifically named “Bunny Slope.”
My 10 favorite New England ski trail names