Skiing in the Front Range of South Central Alaska's Chugach mountains is an acquired taste. In the middle of summer when the mountains are mostly snow free they look like hills and inspire little hope for skiing adventure. But throw some snow on them and suddenly their intricate features and deceptively large scale start to show.
When I first got my new Scarpa Aliens early last season and skied them for the first time, it became quickly apparent that the stock liners were not going to work for me. Scarpa tends to run a fairly high volume last on all their boots and the Alien is no exception. For my skinny-ass feet and a svelte race liner, this combo sucked. It was painful when I cranked the cuff tight enough to ski effectively and also ensured that I would not survive the 10,000 meters of climbing and descending promised at the Pierra Menta.
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.