Gary Johnson Smokes New Hampshire’s Tuckerman Ravine
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Last week, I joined Gary Johnson, the 58-year-old former governor of New Mexico and aspiring Republican presidential nominee, for a run down Tuckerman Ravine, on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Johnson, who formally announced his White House bid on Thursday, April 21, wanted to ski Tuck’s as a way to “unwind” from two stressful days campaigning in New Hampshire, and to provide a chance for media to see him in his element, which might often be described as “lethal mountains.”
Whatever you think of Johnson as a politician (fiscally conservative, socially tolerant Libertarian who supports legalizing marijuana and same-sex unions), there’s no disputing his badassness as an outdoor athlete. He summited Everest in 2003, has completed several Ironman triathlons, and has won his age group at the grueling Breck Epic mountain bike stage race. He loves to ski, and he rips expert terrain like a pro. I’ve tried to keep up with Johnson on his home turf at Taos, NM, and it’s not easy. “I was kind of a ski bum ski instructor when I was younger,” he told me on our way to Mount Washington. “I’ve been trying to convince myself that there’s something better in life than skiing, but I can assure you, after years of looking, there isn’t.”
Johnson takes skiing as seriously as he does everything else he’s applied himself to—running state affairs, building a construction company, climbing Everest—and the day we visited Tuck’s was serious business. I was the only “media” to make the full climb with him (the only other two to make the run were Mike Babcock, a lawyer and Johnson campaign volunteer from Manhattan, and Ryan Hunter, a friend and competitive freeskier from Park City), and all I can say is I was glad I brought my ice ax: the headwall was damn steep and frozen solid.
We skied “The Lip”—I’m pretty sure we were the only skiers to make it down the route that day—and it was blowing 50, in near white out conditions. Here’s how a popular guide book describes this run: “Skiing over the lip and into the Bowl is the classic test piece of Tuck’s…you glide gently over the flats, and then drop precipitously. Earth falls away, sky rushes up to greet you, and your heart lodges in your throat.” Another says, “It’s like skiing down a cue ball.”
ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE, COURTESY OF JOHNSON SUPPORTER HARDY MACIA
Johnson barely paused, and shortly we were scritching our way down the icy face. A fall here would have been a very, very bad thing, but we made it, gathering at the bottom of the basin for a round of high-fives and fist bumps. Johnson even contemplated another run, but the weather seemed to be getting worse and we deemed it prudent to head down. (One supporter with us handed him a $5,000 check in the parking lot at the trail head.) By the next day he was back in a coat and tie, stumping and playing policy wonk. I don’t know if his prowess in the mountains is going to serve him as his campaign unfolds in the coming months, though certainly his endurance will: The guy isn’t going to quit when things get tough and scary.