« Alaska Late Winter Hits - Volume 2 | Main | Sportiva Spitfire Review (updated) »

Alaska Late Winter Hits - Volume 1

For the better part of the last year I struggled to find the love here in Alaska. The weather was crap much of the time and winter took its sweet time coming. Everyone told me it would take a year to adjust and that seems to be what’s happening.

Why Rush?

Everyone told me that the mid winter darkness would be hard. Meh. I didn’t really find it to be that big of a deal. What I’ve come to believe, however, is that the unique daylight features in Alaska make for lazy skiers, in a way. First, in the middle of winter, it doesn’t get light until 10am so there’s no hurry to get out of bed. I haven’t come across any “alpine starters” typical of my friends elsewhere. And since it’s getting dark by 3pm you’re usually home before dinner. That’s kinda nice. You still get 5 hours of skiing in.

Gone are the days with Steve Romeo showing up at my door at 7am in January, coffee in hand, grabbing my stuff and loading it into the van. Goddamn he was a punctual skier and one to whom all others are compared. So far, they all fall short by a mile. Rando Steve and me high on the Grand after getting my ass out of bed at 1amI miss that sense of urgency and bristling anticipation that came with those Teton dawn patrols. We all shared a similar sense of commitment to being on time and ready to roll when the doorbell rang. So, when I get all uppity these days my partners just tell me to chill. They’re like, “Hey Randoman. You’re not in the Tetons anymore.” Welcome to Alaska.

This time of year, it’s still hard to motivate my partners for an early start. The reasoning is that since it’s light until 10pm, what’s the hurry? I think corn farming will still dictate some earlier starts but if you’re heading to north facing lines they hold up remarkably well into the late afternoon. The only problem I have with this is that I sleep away the morning and I’m not home until after dinner. Doesn’t leave much time for anything else, hence, my slow output on posts like this.

In Like a Lamb, Out Like a Lion

In spite of a rough start with a thin, sketchy snow pack, winter turned out pretty damn good and spring is even better. The long Alaskan evenings make this place unique. I still have my issues but have been making the best of it, nonetheless. I have a backlog of photos and short stories to share about various lines and outings that I thought I would condense into three successive posts.


But first, some commentary about blogs and internet-sourced beta, in general. I got flamed (again) by a commenter concerned about me bringing to light access issues involving particular parts of the Western Chugach. In my enthusiasm for the area, I naively posted a bunch of shit that simply fanned the flames of the issue. In hindsight, he was/is right. I’m part of the problem and those like me who post pictures and stories linked to the area perpetuate the problems.

What I’ve decided to do is to leave out names of peaks and access details where issues exist. Resourceful individuals can still find the missing information but I, for one, will not be providing it. I do this as a sort of peace offering to those impacted. As you can read in comments elsewhere on this blog, some feel more strongly than I about access. I’d rather we just all get along and ski the piss out of everything…. just for the fun of it.

The problem with not making consolations like this is that people can be real assholes. One only needs to witness localism issues at surf breaks around the world to understand what happens when these bastards take themselves too seriously. Can you imagine coming back to your car after a day of touring and finding your windshield shot out or tires flat? I’d like to keep it from coming to that.

Hatcher Pass

Spines and lines, Rae Wallace Ridge, Hatcher Pass, AKEasily the best and most consistent skiing I had this season was at Hatcher Pass. Known for it’s more Continental snow pack, fickle weather and flat light, I saw little of any of that this winter. Instead, I found rock bordered couloir skiing and blue bird skies that happened to fall on several weekends. Cornice dropping tactics were developed with my partners and we enjoyed well-managed powder skiing on most days out. It was generally ridiculous.

Many days were spent farming the numerous chutes and spine lines off Rae Wallace Ridge from the top of Marmot. In the cold deep cold of winter, most skiers were drawn to the sunny slopes and we typically had the dark north face to ourselves.

My best day out was a solo mission spent across the valley in the Gold Cord area. I had spied these three lines several weeks earlier and decided to have a look. What I found were perfect conditions with stable powder on moderate to steep lines. Super fun.

This taunted me from the parking lot all winter

Watch the clothes line. Mining equipment from days gone

Pick your poison

Mildly spicey.

I’d heard from a friend that some guy took a picture of me on the face from across the valley and made some comment on Telemark Tips about it being an example of someone trying hard to kill himself. Funny how opinionated folks get from the comfort of their armchairs. Sure, he was out skiing but he was nowhere near me or the snow under my feet and yet seemed to “know” what was going on. Right.

Turnagain Pass

Turnagain Pass goodnessI didn’t ski Turnagain too much this year. Conditions conspired against me when things were looking good at Hatcher. I simply went North more often. That said, I had several good days there and got a taste of the huge, often stable powder lines the area is known for. Still, dropping onto a huge 2,500 line with no island of safety in sight is an acquired taste. Pass regulars temper their anxiety with giant skis and air bags and kid themselves they’ll survive the ride to the bottom. In reality, I think riding the numerous spines is the best tactic for survival. That and being able to really open it up when you need to in order to stay in front of things.

One of my best days involved only three runs. Each was at least 2,500 feet. We covered a lot of ground in two valleys. Two were big faces that upped my sphincter tone and the other was a ridiculously long 40-degree couloir that had me giggling the whole way down.

Dropping back into the freezer 

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (4)

Glad you're coming around! Chugach time seems much more relaxed than Teton time...

Here's to another great season and another chapter in "The Adventures of Randoman." Got to love it here - still runs to be named and first descents to be had w/n a daytrip of the metropolis. I'll look forward to those posts next season...

Hopefully your proselytizing and tips for gear acquisition will see me well suited for upping the ante in the Fall.

May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChugach Lover

You're funny, Mr. Lover.

I may understand the relaxed attitude up here but I doubt I'll ever fully embrace it, at least as practiced by you and your ilk. Although I love going to breakfast before heading out and generally sleeping more, I miss the sunrises and the early light that real alpine starts bring.

After 40 years of climbing (god, has it been that long?), those mornings never come easy but the rewards are just as rich now as they were when I was 12. Heading out in the dark is like opening your favorite Christmas present slowly, with the gently brightening sky revealing the day's treasure.

Besides, now with the sun strong early, our very survival will dictate losing some sleep and getting to the goods and back before lunch. Can't wait.

May 13, 2013 | Registered CommenterBrian

Meh. With the Western Chugach sun strong early, this time of year, you have a short period of down time when steeps on the last aspect to transition to summer snow aren't really do-able until the metamorphosis is complete. Then, stability isn't really an issue until the snow starts falling again in earnest in the fall. Hence, those 11pm solstice alpenglow turns mentioned in your newest post...

I don't know of much on other aspects worth skiing (read steep) this last in the season, but this year is a little different. Here's to late May powder skiing!

I'll be looking forward to ice tools, ropes, and alpine starts...working up to it slowly though! I can get plenty of scary steep as is with a 4pm start ;)

May 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChugach Lover

I won't rule out summer skiing as it seems to be something popular in these parts. However, I have resisted in the past as the approaches in other ranges are tedious and I finally decide that I'd rather be riding my bike than shlepping my ski gear through the dirt for another 1,000 foot run. We'll see.

May 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterBrian

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>