Speeding through elegant ski traverses here in Alaska is a fun distraction for those of us prone to such shenanigans. When I lived in Jackson, I was an avid skimo racer and spent most of the fall and winter preparing for and competing in races all over the west. I had lots of friends who did the same. It produced a type of momentum in our approach to the mountains that's unique to those that do it.
As most readers know, I've been playing the speed game in ski mountaineering for several years. It was a natural distraction for active Teton and Wasatch skimo racers who wanted to take their race-honed fitness and ski skills to the higher peaks. For those of us who toyed with this sort of masochism, we enjoyed pushing each other, setting standards for others to pursue and generally enjoyed testing ourselves in the mountains. We coined it the "Grand Teton Speed Project". Granted, this stuff is not for everyone. The fat and baggy crowd could care less about going fast and covering lots of ground in a day. For them, the focus is on the down. Fair enough. For sure, our skiing was not pretty but we got more of it each day and this made us happy. We still like powder skiing on fat boards but Lycra and race sticks still capture our imagination.
Although it's easy to say that this winter in Alaska has been dismal without precedence, I've managed to find damn good skiing almost every time I've been out. Sure, I've had a few utterly horrid outings on Peak 3 boiler plate while being pummeled by wind and spindrift. And, it's true. The days out skiing have been far fewer than what I consider normal. But the days I've had have mosly put a smile on my face.
After residing in Anchorage for three years now, I've observed a few subsets of backcountry skiers. The largest group gravitates South to Turnagain Pass for all the huge line powder goodness that zone provides. When the weather is clear and the snow fresh it is unrivalled. A slightly smaller group will head North to Hatcher Pass where slightly smaller scaled and often rockier chute skiing can be found. These two groups often blend as weather systems in South Central AK tend to favor one area or the other.
Not long after I moved to Alaska, I became disheartened at how bad the weather could be. My first few weeks were actually glorious with perfectly clear spring weather following one of the best winters on record. I skied a lot of cool lines those first days, especially for a guy who just blew into town. But the summer dulldrums soon followed and I became overwhelmed at times by the incessant rain. A few wind events followed and I wondered what the hell I was doing here. I think I even cried a few times.