Winter Carnival is a favorite weekend of the year for many students and community members because of its emphasis on traditions including the snow sculpture, Polar Bear Swim and termly parties hosted by Greek organizations. While these traditions have stood the test of time, others have been lost over the decades of Winter Carnival’s 101-year history.
The Dartmouth Outing Club organized and managed the weekend until the 1960s, which was originally centered around athletic events. The College formerly hosted athletes from 13 colleges who competed in ski relay races, snowshoe dashes, cross-country runs and obstacle races. Crowds of students, alumni and other visitors numbering in the thousands flocked to campus for the weekend.
The ski jump was a popular and long-lasting athletic event that ended in the 1990s. Ski jumpers used to fly off the wooden ramp constructed on the Hanover Golf Club green and land distances of up to 45 feet away.
The ski jump was removed from the Winter Carnival schedule when the sport was dropped by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Although the Carnival which Theodore Geisel ’25 called “the very best party I have ever been invited to” in 1991 remains a time of revelry and festivity, comedy once played a larger role.
In its early years, Carnival weekend featured a comedic skating show. When F. Scott Fitzgerald visited the College, he attended the 1939 “Keg O’ Rum”-themed comedy show. The comedic ice skating show was eventually replaced by an annual skating show featuring talented performers, including members of the U.S. Olympic team in 1980. An annual concert called Hootenanny, which attracted large audiences and famous musicians, used to be a part of Winter Carnival weekend. During the 1964 Carnival, The Dartmouth reported, “Hootenanny is based on the principle that college students and a certain amount of controlled spontaneity make for good ratings and a good time had by all.”
Folk singer Joan Baez performed in the 1961 Hootenanny show, and Johnny Cash was scheduled to perform in 1964 but was unable to attend. However, the Hootenanny still attracted national attention and was featured on a television show of the same name.
In the 1960s, Winter Carnival Council began to cancel some events, including the ice skating show, out of concern that the weekend had become over-commercialized. National media outlets had become a frequent presence at Carnival.
Despite the loss of several popular events, Winter Carnival councils continued to devise unique activities to replace them. The 1962 Carnival featured “toboggan parties,” while the 1981 Carnival included horse-drawn sleigh rides and a “Ding Letter Contest” in The Dartmouth for those rejected by potential dates. More recently, the 2010 and 2011 Carnivals included an event after ski races hosted by the Dartmouth Outing Club in which students were invited to try over thirty kinds of grilled meat.
This year, the Winter Carnival Council chose to revive the snow sculpture contest historically held between college organizations such as residence halls and fraternities, but the event was cancelled on Wednesday due to lack of snow.
Psi Upsilon fraternity’s keg jump competition has not returned, despite its popularity among students.
The keg jump began in the early 1980s when a group of members, who had finished their fifth keg on a Saturday afternoon of Carnival, watched a tractor pull on television. They were inspired by Evil Knievil’s motorcyle jump over five cars and decided to replicate the event on their front lawn. They donned hockey gear, lined up the empty kegs and proceeded to jump as many as they could.
The keg jump became a charity event in 1984 that typically raised over $1,000. Entrance was limited to members of the house in order to protect Psi U from possible lawsuits.
Members of Psi U usually took an entire term to prepare for the jump because the fraternity had to ice over their front lawn to form a rink.
During the course of the event, kegs would be continually added to an ever-growing line. Brothers would attempt to clear as many kegs as possible while keeping their skates from touching the kegs. David Mace ’98 holds the current keg jump record of 14 kegs.
Before it was banned in 2001, the keg jump was one of the largest sporting events of the weekend. While covering the event in 1998, The Dartmouth categorized contestants as “favorites,” “contenders,” “darkhorses” and “pretenders.”
Despite the excitement surrounding the event, the College had to cancel the keg jump because of a lack of insurance coverage.
In 2004, members of Psi U attempted to hold the keg jump at an off-campus location in Vermont. Warm temperatures ruined the icy surface necessary for the jump, and the event was canceled despite Psi U’s efforts to secure a venue, hire buses to take students to the event and rent a sound system.