Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Los Alamos - How Physicists Once Cleared a Ski Hill

Niels Bohr out on the hill, January 1945
I've been reading an interesting book about life in Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. There are several sections that talk about recreation and how the principal physicists and engineers would spend their time outside the labs and away from their calculations.

When the British contingent arrived in 1944 they brought with them most of the brightest minds who had fled the continent, included were nobel laureates Niels Bohr and Enrico Fermi, as well as (future laureate) Hans Bethe who were all big skiers. Sort of a precursor to the 10th Mountain Division men, who would return from the war and build European inspired ski hills across the U.S. Bohr and Bethe would skin up the hills, then free-heel back down, and actually got a few other non-skiers interested in doing the same.

By the winter of 1945 there was a need for a greater variety of ski slopes. Someone felt that Sawyers Hill southwest of town was a decent location (just west of the present day intersection of NM-4 and Hwy 501). Trees had to be cleared though, so skier and demolition expert George Kistiakowsky took it upon himself to clear the hill. He brought in his explosives team, the team who would ultimately be responsible for designing the proper charge for the world's first fission reaction weapons, and together they rounded up some detonation cords and C-4, wrapped the trees marked for clearing, and with one blast, cut them all to the ground. Fittingly, this was Los Alamos' first purpose-built ski hill.

The now widely used image of Bohr (above), went unseen until the 1950's since it was strictly classified who was involved with the Project, or who might have been jaunting around the hills of the Pajarito Plateau on skis during the winter of 1945.

Related Posts:
  - Nordic Skiing Guaje Canyon
  - Frijoles Canyon and Bandelier National Monument
  - Lummis Canyon and Bandelier National Monument

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