Around Washington only the real diehards and degenerates fool with spring skiing. But there are people in New England who think that May and June offer the best skiing conditions of all.

And when the snows of spring are all melted away there is one last place for the never-satisfied of the Northland -- Tuckerman's Ravine.

Tuckerman's is a bowl-shaped rock face on Maine's Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in the East. Most people consider it unskiable because it's simply too vertical, but it has the advantage of keeping its snow until June and even July.

Years ago the best skiers in North America would go there every April for the most daring ski race ever devised. Toni Matt was one of them, and he made a mark there that will never be eclipsed.

Matt is a ski-school director at Whiteface Mountain in upstate New York. He's 59 years old, tanned and healthy, but he walks with a limp from a terrible skiing accident in a 1953 race.

His Tuckerman's conquest came long before that, in 1939, when he was only 19 years old.

The race was called "The Inferno" by those who dared to run it. It was not the only race conducted on Mount Washington, but compared to it the others were Sunday-school picnics.

Normally, races began at the foot of Tuckerman's Ravine. "The Inferno" started at the top of Mount Washington and included Tuckerman's.

That meant instead of a 2 1/2-mile run the skiers raced four miles, and in the middle of that four miles was the 1,000-foot vertical drop down the sheer face of the Ravine.

It involved elaborate plans and preparations. Matt knew the conventional wisdom when he entered for the first time in '39, but he had a plan of his own.

Most of the racers came to a near-stop at the lip of the ravine, then carefully zigged and zagged their way down the headwall in broad, sweeping switchbacks. Matt decided he would start his turns earlier and keep them shallower, so when he hit the lip of the ravine he would be traveling half-speed. Then he could take a more direct route down the face.

Great plan, but he miscalculated.

In the race he made his preliminary turns too early. When he figured he'd already crossed the lip of the ravine and was half-way down, he hunkered over for the straight plunge to the finish.

That's when he hit the lip, going full blast, right over the top.

He knew instantly what he'd done, but "I didn't have no turning left in me," he said.

Matt's only remaining choice was to schuss the headwall of Tuckerman's Ravine, which everyone knew was impossible.

He made it. Mathematiclans have since deduced that he maintained a speed of close to 100 miles per hour.

"I was lucky," he said in his office Whiteface, chuckling. "I was 19 years old was in good shape. My only fear was that would be crushed by G-forces when the ground leveled out at the bottom."

Matt was flying. He plowed into the She burne Trail and headed for the finish line He got there in 6 minutes 29 seconds, top bottom.

The previous record for the course: minutes. "I cut it in half," Matt said. "The judges at the finish, they couldn't believe their stopwatch."

His record never was broken. The ravine isn't run anymore because there is no way build a lift up Mount Washington and to day's softies refuse to walk up a hill to ravine down it.

"We scheduled it a couple of times after the war but nobody came," Matt said.

Matt, who claimed national down championships in 1939, '41 and '46, make his mark that day.

"I tell you, I raced a long time and I won lot of races," he said."But now, whenever meet anyone of my vintage who knows sheing, they say, 'Oh, yeah -- you're the cra b -- who schussed the headwall at Tuckerman's Ravine."