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Seattle Ridge from Tincan, Turnagain Pass, AKI doubt anyone in the lower 48 has noticed but somebody pressed the “HOLD” button on winter up here in Alaska. If I hear one more time what an epic season they had LAST winter I’m gonna punch someone in the nose. I mean, it just doesn’t matter now. I want it to start snowing again….soon.

We’ve had day after day of splitter blue skies and cold temps here in Anchorage. All that rain last summer? No where to be found now. Figures. I click on the satellite images and watch those beautiful curls marching through Washington and across to my beloved Tetons. Enough to make me weep.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I haven’t been skiing. On the contrary, I’ve been out every weekend for well over a month. And I even sampled the goods up on the often-sprayed-about Turnagain Pass on a lean, pretty sketchy but soft snow pack. I had fun, too. But everyone else has been getting it and we’re just about out of space between the tracks.

The folks up here tell me that this weather pattern is typical. When the Cascades are getting it, we’re not and visa versa. I think I’m ready for the flip side of that, like, two weeks ago. Of course, with all the cold, clear days and nights with nary a breeze, the white dragon will be gestating for some time once the snow starts falling. More good news. We’re going to need a reset button.

Turnagain Pass

It was good to finally get up into an area I’ve heard so much about. It’s a little over an hour’s drive up there, 20 minutes past Girdwood and the Alyeska Resort. Nicely close for Gird’ residents but more of a haul for us city dwellers. But since it doesn’t get light until well after 9am in the thick of winter, what’s the hurry anyway? Since the front range above town is basically dry, there’s no other option. Yeah, there’s Hatcher Pass going the other direction but it’s not in shape yet either.

Turnagain is a section of road along the highway that accesses good skiing terrain on one side and equally good snow machine terrain on the other. Apparently, these typically at-odds groups have worked out a satisfying compromise. Fair enough. The ski side is a series of ridgelines running perpendicular to the road, separated by wide drainages offering access to deeper terrain for those willing to tour. The easy money is about 2,500 feet and just over an hour from the car.

The spines are here.The terrain is unique to Alaska, all above tree line for the most part and consists mostly of wide faces and shallow bowls. There’s plenty of spine lines just like in the movies. The legendary Alaskan snow allegedly sticks to these 35 degree slopes creating fat ski heaven and encouraging TGR worthy ripping.

The early season pack is wanting, definitely not TGR quality stuff, but fun enough for November. I hit Sunburst on an overcast day my first outing up there. Lots of other folks had the same idea. Reminded me of Teton Pass only bigger. Takes twice as long to get to the top. We lapped the upper 800 feet or so in good but shallow snow. No head plants allowed. A short tour up to Taylor Pass was a fun little distraction and yielded another 1,000 feet. 

Last weekend I figured Turnagain would be done but heard otherwise so went back, this time in great weather. I went for the uber popular Tincan this time. The approach was less bushy and more straight forward. I couldn't believe there was still good snow. Tincan, Turnagain Pass, AKI caught up with some friends and we did a few laps together. The top of Tincan is a short booter up an elegant ridge. The little bowl at the top, about 650', held the best snow so we stayed high and farmed it hard. I ended up doing 5 laps. Nothing to complain about, all things consideredThe out to the car was interupted by me getting off route following tracks and doing some vertical bush wacking with skis on.

The next day, completely stoked about my experience, I managed to get my seriously busy friend Marc out on a day pass. Marc topping out for another lap on the Tincan's upper bowlWe went back to Tincan and had another great day. The oddity of the day was a tribe of 20 somethings building and then hucking off a kicker just like in the ski porn films. The local organ donors at playI just couldn't get past the fact that they were doing this into 18 inches of snow. I was surprised no one broke their neck. 

Light and what?

From my less-than-scientific sampling of skiers on the skin track the last couple of weekends I’d say few have ever heard of ski mountaineering racing. And if they found out it involved skiing on 65mm underfoot skis they’d certainly promptly forget having heard of it. One thing is for sure. The absence of a race scene in a range will thwart the development of any sort of fast and light sub culture like we have in the Wasatch and Tetons. One leads to another.

I’ve seen a few pairs of TLTs up there but the stores don’t carry the Performance model because it’s not warm enough. Everyone else is sporting big boots on 110mm to 130mm underfoot minimum powder skis. There’s a smattering of binding styles at work. I’ve also seen a fair amount of sweaty skiers in colorful, fashionably baggy laminated clothes. I never want to sweat like that.

No one’s in too much of a hurry so far. This makes my style all the more conspicuous. I thought about trying to fit in. I wore a Mammut soft shell the first time out but I was bloody hot. I traded my Dynafit touring “almost tights” for a light pair of Marmot Schoeller pants. That was okay.

I finally couldn’t help myself and donned my shamelessly Italian Montura Lycra top the next time out. That got some stares, for sure. But the snickering was tempered when I lapped them on the skin track. I think they actually liked the fact that I was going fast. Lot’s of Nordic skiers up here so they get it. But they also got sucked into buying big-ass gear so it’s not entirely clear how this old man is generating that kind of pace. It’s Alaska so, of course, you have to have an ABS bladder or at least an Avalung pack. Hopefully, I won’t regret not having one this winter. I’ll try and keep my nose clean. But if you simply can’t ski without that shit because, well, the industry has convinced you, then you’re never going to speed up. It’s that simple.

In another post I’ll come clean about my recent “big” purchase but it’s special occasion only equipment… honest. The Plum 165 Race bindingI plan on spending the winter on my tongue-less and strapless TLT 5 Performance boots, Plum Race 165 bindings mounted on Dynafit 178cm Manaslus. I bet my set up is half the weight or better than most of the folks I ski by. I put all my crap in a CAMP X3 Light pack so I’m miles ahead before I leave the car.Why go heavy?

Now, I don’t bring all this up to sound all high and mighty. Shit, they’re having fun and so am I. Ski on what you want, live and let live, kumbaya and all that crap. But what I really want are SOME FEAKING PARTNERS, fergodsakes! I miss the crew back home. There’s no shortage of guys down there ready to throttle it in the name of more vert. And that’s the game I love. It's not the only game, just the one I choose. I plan on cultivating some interest in others around here so we can get some things done this season. I’ve started picking out my likely converts. 

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Reader Comments (9)

The end of your post is also my problem! Unfortunately we're a little too far away (Quebec city) to be partners! I have two young kids (1.5 and 2.5) so the only time I get is from 5am to about 10 am on Sunday's... whatever the time it's hard to find partners but for this schedule no way! :(

I'm more of a runner and want to start skimo this winter so I was wondering if you would recommend your LaSpo hI5? I'll ski some unmaintained slopes but also hard packed in ski resorts... Any other gear recommendations for me? Skied a lot 20 years ago so I guess that now makes me a mid level skier.

Good luck with the partner thing and thanks for the blog!


November 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

Nice to know I have some Canadian readers.

I have never skied the Hi5 but have generally heard good things. It's a carbon fiber ski, pretty light, and 105mm underfoot. That's fat enough for most needs in my world. I'm skiing 95mm and feel the same way about that.

I think carbon skis have a degree of unforgivingness to them that some people don't like. It's hard to describe but they are "snappy". I tend to favor a little wood in my skis that seems to dampen the responsiveness in a way I like. The Dynafit and Trab skis have wood in them. They are still really light.

That said, I would have a look at the DPS Wailer 99. This would be better for soft snow so if you are skiing Eastern boiler plate it may not be the best. It handles other conditions well, though.

There is also the LS Lo5, narrower and lighter. Again, carbon. And the Movement skis are silly light although harder to find outside of Europe. Hagan makes some more traditional boards that are light and usually have nice price point.

All these skis are pricey so I would try to demo some before buying. Put some sort of tech binding on them, for sure. For boots, well, you know me if you've read this blog much. I'm a fan of the Dynafit TLT5. LS has some similar versions coming out this season that will probably match up similarly although I have not had them on my feet. The Dynafit Vulcan, which I own now, is a beefier version of the TLT and skis very nicely.

Let me know if that helps or just confuses you.

Happy shopping.

November 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterBrian

Brian - You've got more than one reader in Quebec, go figure.

Richard - If you can get yourself set up in time you should try to make it to Jay Peak on January 12th. There's a pretty low key/fun race there. Not sure if it's too far from Quebec City but I'm sure there will be a few of us from Montreal.


November 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKane

Ahh, two and counting, Kane. Brilliant! Thanks for reading.

November 30, 2012 | Registered CommenterBrian

Thanks Brian! That helps a lot. I'll probably often have to ski on ice so I guess the skis will need to be able to handle this too. It's hard to choose since I don't know in what conditions I'll be mainly skiing. And no shop sales Skimo equipment here in Quebec city although MEC can order them for me, So no trying first :(

Kane, thanks for the recommendation, I'll try to make it to Jay... it's really not that far, Where are you skiing? What kind of conditions do you have and do you have any recommendations? You can email me at rferron à did dot qc dot ca
BTW here in Quebec starting this winter the Parc de la Jacques Cartier will have a ski zone with 300m denivellation and no lifts. :)

November 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

Brian, good rant. I just linked to your blog from coldthistle.

What other types of interests are you looking to cultivate around here the in anchorage town?

December 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Hi Andy,
Glad you found it. Another internet distraction for you.

I'm slowly getting into the fold of the "right" people for getting me acclimated here. I'm getting a good handle on the skiing now, meeting partners and getting out. My feet touched many of the Front Range high points this summer and I participated in the mountain running series. I've done my share of ice climbing in the past but have done none here yet. Finally, I bought some classic skis and plan on doing some of that when the snow comes. That's about it. No fat tire bike for me this year.

December 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterBrian

right on brian, im new to the area as well. no fat tire bike for this student loan slave either. i'll chat you up if i see you out in the hills sometime. haven't had great luck finding a crew like the old one back in co.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Hey Andy,

Sounds great. I only have one dependable partner right now and we could use another. I've lots of friends from Colorado, mainly CB and Summit county but a few in Aspen, too. Be sure to give a shout on the skin track. I'm usually the only guy dressed funny.

February 8, 2013 | Registered CommenterBrian

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