Toni Matt

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Toni Matt 1939
Toni Matt in 1939

Anton (Toni) Matt (November 21, 1919 – May 17, 1989)

Austrian-American ski pioneer, champion racer, 10th Mountain Division Veteran.


1939 Inferno Race Photograph

Matt was born in St. Anton, Austria. He came to North Conway, New Hampshire, in 1938 after becoming Junior National Champion in the Austrian Alps. He was a protege of Hannes Schneider who became known as "The Father of Alpine Ski Technique". Schneider's Austrians spread across America, developing the ski industry post WWII.

Matt's most renowned feat came on April 16, 1939, when in the Third "American Inferno", a top-to-bottom race of Tuckerman Revine on Mount Washington, New Hampshire, he "schussed" (straight skiing) the steep and infamous Headwall. His time for the 4-mile race was 6 minutes 29.2 seconds, with an estimated top speed of over 90 MPH. cutting the existing course record in half.

Matt was the US Downhill Champion in 1939 and 1941, winning 30 Downhill races Nationally.

He served during World War II as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division. Matt was part of the August 1943 Aleutian Islands Kiska Invasion Force of 34,000 plus Canadian and American troops. His 87th Regiment was the only major U.S. force specifically trained for mountain warfare.

By his service, Matt became a US Citizen.

Matt retired from ski racing in 1951 following a fractured leg. He recovered and went on to direct ski schools at Big Mountain (founder) in Whitefish, MT; Catamount Ski Area, Egremont, MA; and Whiteface Mountain, Lake Placid, NY, where he was a race official for the 1980 Olympic Alpine Events.

Lifelong friend and fellow Austrian, Herbert Schneider (son of Hannes Schneider), said that Matt was "an especially gifted ski instructor."[1]

Lowell Thomas, famous broadcaster, family friend, and ski enthusiast, called Matt "The Babe Ruth of Skiing".[citation needed]

Matt coached the US Men's ski team, 1949–50.

He was inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame in 1967.[2]

Matt died on May 17, 1989, in Pawling, New York, where he lived with his wife Stella and raised their family of 5 children.

A family-loaned collection of Toni Matt's memorabilia – including the 1939 Inferno Cup and other trophies, photos, video, and audio – can be experienced at The New England Ski Museum in Franconia, New Hampshire, located at the base of the Cannon Mountain Tramway. visit

Schussing the Headwall[edit]

Three times during the 1930s, a ski race was run from the summit cone of Mount Washington, the highest mountain in the northeastern United States, to the base lodge at Pinkham Notch. The course of the race – dubbed "the American Inferno" – ran over the headwall of Tuckerman Ravine, which in some areas drops at more than 50 degrees.[3] Since the 1930s attempts to recreate the original American Inferno have been cancelled several times due to extreme weather conditions. Although races along parts of the route have been held from time to time, it is unlikely that the "true" American Inferno of the 1930s will ever be held again due to its highly unsafe design, and weather problems – both extreme winter weather (at the summit) and spring melting and flooding [4] (at the base).[5][6]

Two weeks after winning the National downhill championship in the spring of 1939, Toni Matt entered the third (and last) running of the American Inferno. He did not plan to schuss the entire Headwall; instead he intended to make a few turns before tucking and heading straight down. However he didn't realize that he had not yet reached the Lip, the steepest part of the approach to the Headwall. By the time he realized his error, it was too late to turn. Years later, he said that when he reached the floor of the Headwall, at the transition from steep to relatively flat, he felt lucky to be "nineteen, stupid, and have strong legs".[3] Matt's top speed, estimated by study of movie film, was 90 mph. His winning time for the 3.8 mile race was 6 minutes 29.2 seconds. The second-place finisher, Olympian Dick Durrance, took a full minute longer.[7] The next day the Boston Herald described the impression Matt's run made:

Maintaining almost unbelievable speed and control down the snow fields of the summit cone, the almost vertical 1000-foot headwall of Tuckerman ravine and the twisting pitches of the Sherburne trail, Matt literally raced the entire field of 44 starters into the snow.[8]

Although a few other skiers are known to have schussed the headwall in the past hundred years, none have done it like Toni Matt who was already moving at a high speed – estimated by Matt to be 40 - 45 mph [9] – when he dropped over the lip at the top of the headwall.[3]

From the first reports of Matt's run to the present day, writers have frequently noted the astonishing fact that Matt's time of 6:29.2 didn't just break the record of 12:35.0 set at the second Inferno in 1934 – but nearly cut it in half. While these facts are correct, it should be noted that this record-breaking time owes little to Matt's renowned Headwall schuss. In fact, even though only Matt schussed the Headwall, 37 of the 44 skiers in the 1939 race beat the 1934 course record.[8] Second place finisher Dick Durrance wrote in his memoir that he doubted the schuss could even account for one minute of time saved.[10]

There are at least four reasons for such improved times in the 1939 running of the Inferno: The snow conditions were ideal.[7][11] There was a strong tail wind.[7] The skiers were given wide latitude to choose their own route (there was only a single gate), so strategy was an important determinant of time. Racers in the 1939 Inferno had the benefit of the experience of racers in the two previous Infernos.[12] And finally, the John Sherburne Ski Trail was constructed after the second Inferno, providing a faster route from the bottom of the Little Headwall to Pinkham Notch.[13][14]


  1. ^ New England Ski Museum, Herbert Schneider Archived 2007-01-14 at the Wayback Machine., March 28, 2006. Retrieved December 8, 2007.
  2. ^ National Ski Hall of Fame, Honored Member Archived 2009-04-23 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved December 2, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c Jeffry R. Leich (2011) "Ski History of Tuckerman Ravine" Mount Washington Avalanche Center website
  4. ^ "Inferno Ski Race Cancelled for '54" Burlington (VT) Free Press, April 14, 1954, p14
  5. ^ Robert Sullivan (1983). "To Race or Not to Race? At Inferno Time, that's the enduring question."Sports Illustrated Vol 58, No. 14 (April 4, 1983)
  6. ^ Nicholas Howe (2005). "Inferno: Racing Through Hazards and Hell" Skiing Heritage Vol 17, No. 2 (June 2005)
  7. ^ a b c Jim Graham "Toni Matt: A world-class skier, his legend is tied to one daring run down Mount Washington" in Belman and Pride, editors The New Hampshire Century: Concord Monitor profiles of one hundred people who shaped it, Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2001. ISBN 1-58465-087-7.
  8. ^ a b "Toni Matt Wins Inferno Ski Race" Boston Herald, April 17, 1939, p15
  9. ^ Heather Hansman (2014) "The American Inferno: Know your roots: American big mountain competitions" Powder Magazine (February 26, 2014)
  10. ^ Dick Durrance and John Jerome The Man on the Medal. Aspen, CO: Durrance Enterprises (1995). ISBN 0-96484-730-2
  11. ^ Winston Pote Mount Washington in Winter: Photographs and Recollections 1923-1940, Camden, ME: Down East Books,1985. ISBN 0-89272-196-0. p. 212-218
  12. ^ Albert & Julia Rosenblatt "Toni Matt's Magic Moment" An interview with the skier. Poughkeepsie Journal, April 15, 1985, p 23 & 26
  13. ^ AMC White Mountain Guide , 11th editionBoston: Appalachian Mountain Club. (1940)
  14. ^ Joe Dodge (1951) "The American Inferno: Hell on skis" Ski Magazine Spring/March 1951, quoted in Time for Tuckerman Community Forum blog 09-29-2009

Further reading[edit]

  • Jeffrey R. Leich (1999), Over the Headwall, A Short History of Skiing in Tuckerman Ravine. New England Ski Museum. ASIN B0006RN50E

External links[edit]