Giving Thanks
Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 12:56AM
Brian in Alaska Winter, Alaska skiing, Hatcher Pass, back country skiing

Hatcher PassI’ve heard people familiar with Alaska say that “she’s” like a bipolar girlfriend. When she’s good, she’s awesome but when she’s depressed, well, she’s pretty damn intolerable. These past 10 days, or so, this beotch has been in a foul mood, one not conducive to psyching up the local skiers up here. Oh, she was awesome over the Thanksgiving weekend, that’s for sure. But we’ve had way too many days of freezing rain and drizzle even up in the mountains. I’m not ready to break up yet but I’m thinking about sleeping in the other bedroom.

Thanksgiving weekend had me falling in love with her charms all over again. The Talkeetnas got the majority of the snow from our November systems, leaving Turnagain pretty dry. The Chugach over by Valdez got its share, too, but that might as well be in another state for me right now. Not psyched to drive there this time of year. So, Hatcher Pass was the only meal on the menu for the weekend and there was plenty to go around. To be sure, it was cold. This served to keep the timid away. But the skies were brilliant and the winds calm. My partners and I skied all 4 days and hit untracked lines each day. It felt like March up there.

The first day I arrived with Dave plenty early and we put in the skinner up to the top of Marmot. There was some wind effect on the south slope but looking down Rae Wallace to the north it was clear that things were soft and fluffy in all the right ways. Problem was, that no one had really skied those steep chutes this season. Someone needed to “open” them so I elected to be the avalanche poodle.

Nothing like winter light in AlaskaI’d been to Hatcher the previous weekend and shuffled around in the whiteout getting a feel for the snow pack. It was unconsolidated with a pesky rain crust at mid level. The week’s precip covered that amply and it really wasn’t a problem. I never got the sense that anything was really set up enough to move dangerously and visual observations revealed only one smaller slab that pulled out across the valley on Microdot.

Mat feeling the love on Rae WallaceI cut the cornice a bit, sat on my hip, dangled my skis over the edge and dropped 5 feet onto the shoulder of the first couloir. As soon as I did my first cut across the top I knew it was going to be good. Down I went with Dave on duty above me. It was my first few turns on the new Grand Tetons and I was loving them. I was giggling at the bottom and motioned for Dave to follow suit. He was equally incredulous at the quality. Back up for more.

Putting the skinner in for more.Mat arrived after we topped out and joined us in the farming. We made short work of about half the obvious lines off the ridge, leaving some for the next day. Spines or the guts, it didn’t really matter. It was all good. Hard to believe.

Hmmm...what next?On the third day, tired legs and busy schedules had me powder hunting alone on the opposite side of the road where I’d never skied before. I did three runs off Hatch Peak in the sun, lapping my skinner and enjoying the cruiser skiing.

Untracked and sunny, day 4.The fourth day I rallied with Mat again and we poked around more new terrain for me on some traditional snow machine terrain. The noise from the ‘bilers was annoying from time to time but worth the hassle to get freshies on the lines we had. Hard to believe we were getting that after four clear days on a holiday weekend.

The end of a great opening weekend for manySo, this girlfriend is back to being pretty moody and unpleasant right now but I’m hoping the coming Christmas season will brighten her outlook and bring much needed snowfall back to our playground.

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