Pigs on the Hill

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No one knows exactly how it started. one winter day, the Brick—wrapped in aluminum foil—appeared in someone's pack on the remote summit of Maine's Mount Katahdin. Since then, the Brick has been from B.C. to France and beyond—and it always travels without the knowledge of its bearer.

Less clandestine are the skiers for whom the Brick has become a totem of sorts. They call themselves the Pigs on the Hill, a diehard group of a couple dozen backcountry skiers from New Hampshire's Mount Washington Valley. Since 1976, they've been wreaking havoc in the woods from Whistler to Wildcat and beyond—with such zeal that founding member John "Johnski Halupowski has proclaimed, "It's not a club. It's a way of life.

One rainy evening in September, I meet Johnski at the Wildcat Tavern, to sip Grand Marnier (the official beverage and breath freshener of the Pigs) and look through some of the old Pig journals. "It all started right here, says Johnski, looking around the dimly lit, cozy interior of the tavern that dates to the 1900s. "You come in here after a powder day, and you'll see a lot of Pigs. Whether they come for the history or the booze isn't entirely clear.

The ragged books Johnski has brought with him are filled with notes, journal entries, drawings of pigs, photos, and plenty of illegible drunken scrawl. There's a hand-drawn map detailing a circuitous powder tour across the West in 1984. Inside another journal are dried flowers taken from the grave of one of the original Pigs, Steve Phalen, who died of a heart attack at age 28 skiing powder at Alta.

Further in is a list of the Official Pig Rules, which include:
1) The higher you get, the higher you get.
2) Stay high.
3) Ski until your legs burn or someone caresses them.

It's a list that's guided some impressive feats, like an epic streak on Mount Washington, during which Greg "the Spiritual Leader Tsoules and Jonathan "Knobby Taylor skied at least one day a month over 33 consecutive months. At one point they had to topple a 40-foot-high vertical fin of snow in Tuckerman Ravine to create a chunk big enough to lay down the mandatory 10 turns. "We did it for the adventure and the camaraderie, says Tsoules, who accomplished the streak on a pair of 1973 Hart Honeycombs he found at the Jackson, New Hampshire, dump and outfitted with tele bindings. He used the same pair of skis for another epic Pig tour, on which he, Johnski, and several others climbed Mount Washington, then skied from the summit 10 miles downvalley to the door of the Wildcat Tavern—a 5,528-vertical-foot descent.

No one can say exactly how the group became known as the Pigs. Tsoules thinks it might be because the first settler in Jackson allegedly arrived in a pig-drawn wagon. Others say that Johnski just liked pigs. Whatever the case, Pigdom has grown, and at this point Johnski doesn't even know who's in the group. "Being a Pig is nothing but an attitude, he says, tipping back his snifter.

They even have an official call, which sounds something like a wounded turkey trying to yodel. Next time you're skiing a deep-woods chute and hear strange snorts and gobblings, don't fret. It's only the Pigs, rooting about in the snow. Feel free to join in the fun—but guard your pack well, lest you come to bear the Brick.


Ski like a Pig: the Spiritual Leader plunders Tuck's.

"I feel funny without a beard. A pre-Tuck's pose in the Notch.DEC 2004