Before the chairlifts, before the base lodges and summit restaurants, there was the Nose Dive. There are few skiers alive who can remember Vermont's highest peak without this serpentine signature etched onto its flank. No eastern racer can forget the terror or thrill, depending on his skill level, inspired by the notorious Seven Turns. This is the story behind the legend.
The Nose Dive was conceived of by two local skiers, Charlie Lord and Abner Coleman. The late Charlie Lord recounted to me how he and Coleman skied up the Toll Road to the top of what is now the Nose Dive. As they peered down into Smugglers’ Notch, Coleman exclaimed, “God, that'd be a nice place to ski, wouldn't it?” Lord nodded his agreement, and the two plunged down the mountain. “We spent many trips up and down the mountain laying out the Nose Dive,” Lord recounted. “We probably changed it a half-dozen times. The original trail was a lot narrower and a lot rougher.”
It was the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Depression-era jobs program, that ultimately transformed the Nose Dive into a world-class ski run. In 1933, the CCC retained Lord, then an unemployed highway engineer, to help it with trail building and other conservation projects. The avid skier knew just where to direct his troop of ax-wielding men: he first had them cut the Bruce Trail down the southwest side of the mountain. Then he unleashed their energies to craft an epic ski run down the northwest face of the mountain. The Nose Dive opened for skiing in the winter of 1934-35.
The trail was named during a meeting in state forester Perry Merrill’s office that was attended by Coleman and Lord. They were kicking around names when “someone finally offered Nose Drop,” said Coleman. “The fact that the trail started on the Nose set the general line of thought. The transition to Nose Dive was automatic.”
When lifts finally came to Mansfield in the late 1930s, the Nose Dive became the centerpiece of the trail network, and the Bruce Trail fell into disuse. The Nose Dive quickly earned a reputation among top racers as the trail where you could test your mettle. Between 1937 and 1946, the trail was the site of numerous state championship races and four eastern downhill championships. In 1938, the national downhill ski championship was held on the trail. The Nose Dive had to be lengthened for this race, so racers hiked up from the Stone Hut about a half-mile on what is now an abandoned start of the trail (you can still see it when looking up from the Stone Hut or Octagon).
The lore surrounding the Nose Dive was captured in the names that skiers had for every twist in the trail. “The course snaked the corkscrew-like Seven Turns and across Upper Schuss, then careened into Shambles Corner—which was usually just that,” wrote Sports Illustrated in a 1966 story about America’s best ski trails. “The Dive had a reputation as the country’s wickedest—the trail was only 25 feet wide in some spots—and ‘just plain skiers’ stayed away.”
In 1966, the Nose Dive was significantly widened to meet FIS downhill racing standards. The famous Seven Turns were turned into three wide turns at the top, and the trail assumed the character that skiers today experience.
I asked Charlie Lord, the master designer of Stowe’s ski trails, which of his numerous skiing creations he liked most. His answer was immediate and unequivocal. “Nose Dive is the ultimate. That is IT! It's inviting, it’s not too particularly difficult, yet you can develop pretty good speed on it.” He effused, “Nose Dive is really good—if you want to take it easy and swing turns, you can, and if you want to pick up speed, you can get going pretty fast.”
Musing about the lore that has grown up around this Stowe masterpiece, the ski architect mused, “I'm not surprised it is a famous trail because I had a feeling it was a real good trail (when we cut it). I just had a feeling it was.”
So go ahead. See for yourself what the Nose Dive has in store. Hit it right, weave the top turns into one seamless line, then plunge down the wide straightaways til your thighs give out. Carry enough speed on the long bottom runout to get back to the quad. And marvel in the thrill of a trail that has had skiers spinning tall tales about it for the past 70 years.
See you on the turns.
Stowe local David Goodman is the author
of Backcountry Skiing Adventures: Classic
Ski and Snowboard Tours in Vermont and
New York, and the companion guides to
backcountry skiing and riding in Maine
and New Hampshire.