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Alaska Late Winter Hits - Volume 3

The gem of the Chugach Front Range - Ptarmigan PeakThe last installment of early spring fun involves the obvious prize, Ptarmigan Peak and some other lines of desire down the road.

Ptarmigan Peak

Obviously, one of the most visible of Chugach Front Range peaks is no secret to local ski mountaineers. The S Couloir on the north face is a yearly objective for anyone with the skills and knowhow to navigate the issues to ski it. It’s a surprisingly big line for something only 45 minutes of easy skiing from the parking lot. Avalanche danger is real and the skiing can be serious depending upon what line you choose. The face holds snow well into summer and skiing it on the Solstice is a ritual for many friends. There’s nothing more novel than skiing at 11pm in the glorious pink alpenglow typical of an Alaskan summer evening.A couple of fun options on the North Face

Topping out on the S Couloir

Mat booting the pinner on the south edge of the north face

Getting western in the steep upper section

Western Chugach

The local mountains around Anchorage offer hundreds of lines on spectacular peaks easily accessed in a day. If you have an aircraft, well, you’ll run out of years before you ski half of them. Most of the Front Range peaks are in the 3,000 to 5,000 foot size but as you travel further back, 6-7,000 feet becomes more common. This is a ton of relief. Runs are now 2,500 feet or more and getting to them more committing.Nice to have choices

One memorable day was spent traversing three valleys while skiing two big lines with numerous other smaller runs during the course of the nine hour, 9,500 foot day.

Snow conditions were not great as the Chugach had recently been raped by a typical wind event that pounded all the north-facing terrain. We found everything from pockets of powder to breakable to wind board.

The day’s first climb involved 5,000 feet over 3 hours. The sun was hot and winds calm. We were lucky to have a bit of a track to follow for some of it and suspected these individuals had pursued the same link up we had in mind. Mat easing into the first line of the day

Me coming out the bottom of the first downAt the top of the biggest prize, these skiers clearly had second thoughts about dropping into a 2,500-foot couloir with some obvious wind loading at the top. They dug a pit, stomped around a bit and then turned around and skied back the way they came.

Heading up to our second objectiveIt’s funny how this kind of situation can screw with your head. On one hand, if they had proceeded, we would have been more comfortable dropping in. That’s a silly and dangerous attitude, I realize, but common, nonetheless. But in this case, it was just the opposite. They decided it was too dangerous. Now, I try to avoid the herd mentality as often as possible so I wasn’t willing to turn around just yet.

Getting ready for some avy poodling....on belaySometimes success comes to the prepared and we were all of that. I’d brought 100 feet of 7mm cord for just such a situation. Mat had never played this game but was more than willing to on this day if it meant we could carefully assess the drop-in zone without dying. Encouraging reconSo, I tied him in, dug myself into a nice ski-supported belay position and eased him out onto the slope below. With skis both on and off, Mat worked the slope back and forth, stomping and digging pits and blocks for about 20 minutes. Nothing moved. Go time.

2,500 feet of fun

He started down and I eased to the rollover to watch. The couloir went on forever. An amazing line. Again, snow conditions were marginal so I’ll have to come back and ski it in powder sometime like others have before us.On our way out the long way. The line behind Mat.Some tastiness for later.

The day's profile over 9 hours.


Strangely, winter is hanging on this spring with cool temps and intermittent snowfall renewing our objectives weekly. I’ve got a new pair of skis coming suitable for this time of year and I’ll write about them later. I’ve started running a bit but I still have plenty of fire for skiing. I’ve got a trip or two planned in the next few weeks to hopefully ski Rainier with Dane Burns from Cold Thistle. That should be cool.

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Reader Comments (3)

Geeze, not sure which is going to be harder...keeping up on the skis or beating you to that GTR review ;-)

May 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDane

Thanks again for a great blog.
Just love it.
Please don't stop.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBill B

Thanks Bill. I have some love coming your way this weekend.

Dumping here, BTW. Snow is sticking in town, which is sort of crazy. Lot's of grumbling amongst the Anchorage locals but us skiers are LOVING it. Took the snow tires off the Suby this week. That explains the weather, right? Yay!

May 18, 2013 | Registered CommenterBrian

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