Sometime in January my neighbor and baddass skier Cody Pitz and I decided to go to Alaska. Tickets were cheap and both of us really wanted to go, so the decision was easy.
Alaska has such unpredictable and fickle weather that even if we had wanted to, there wasn’t much preparation to be done. We pretty much packed our usual ski kit into bags, with a few extra creature comforts to go along with it, and went to the airport. We had reserved an RV in Anchroage and tracked down a guide book at the last minute, but not much else went into it.
On day one we picked up the RV, hit the grocery store, and drove to Hatcher Pass, about 1 1/2 hours north of Anchorage near Wasilla. On our errands run we saw a little glimpse of life in Anchorage, and it wasn’t pretty, with bums, drunks, beggars, and the down and out everywhere.
We got in just before sundown and were able scope the area and camp overnight in the parking lot. Our first glimpse of the Talkeetna range was about as reassuring as they come–the proximity to couliours and other skiable lines made that access on Teton Pass and Little Cottonwood look like the access to Mt. Everest. In every direction we saw zones that could have kept us busy for years. We picked out a couple couliours to try for in the morning, but mostly just went to bed confidant we would figure it out the next day.
We ended up skiing 4-5 runs the next day. None of them were huge, but they covered a variety of aspects and styles. Our first run of the day wasn’t very good, as it was neither powder nor corn, but rather junk snow. Our second run down a east facing couloir was similarly dismal, having been flushed by other skiers. But then we found the sunny lines and made nice corn turns for the rest of the day.
Having felt like we experienced what Hatcher Pass was all about, we drove north towards Denali to see if we couldn’t find some turns in the Alaska Range. I couldn’t find any information about skiing in this area online, but google earth let it be known that there were ample mountains in close proximity to the road where we were going. The drive was beautiful, albeit empty of any towns or homes; just long stretches of pine trees and braided rivers. Eventually we found ourselves parallel to Denali and its brethren. The mountain were massive and gorgeous in the evening light. We scoped a couple potential zones for the next day and called it a night in a random pullout.
The next day we skied up a drainage to a natural amphitheater that had massive couloirs and beautiful faces for nearly 360 degrees. Unfortunately the snow was garbage and we only had a couple descent turns. We saw grizzly prints and were adjacent to Denali all day. We could so the track of a Timbersled who’s rider clearly had the time of his life whenever he laid them down.
That night we drove towards towards Paxson, via Fairbanks, spending the night in Delta Junction. Fairbanks was a shit hole, and thats being generous. We stopped for gas and propane and there must have been 20 bums outside the gas station making us nervous. Also, everything was noticeably more expensive than in Anchorage.
Paxson had a lot of potential, but the snow just wasn’t any good, and large, deep gorges inhibited easy access to a lot of the places that looked good, so we made the decision to Continue on the Richardson highway to Thompsons Pass. We got some mediocre Thai Food In Tok and made Thompsons by about 2 PM. We talked to a couple CO jokers who had been at Tailgate Alaska who were jibbing some rocks in the woods behind where they were camping on top of the snowbank.
Thompsons Pass is the real deal, with unprecedented snowmobile and helicopter access. We decided to get an afternoon ski in, and went up a canyon opposite the Worthington glacier. We actually got really lucky with the sun coming out right as we were about to descend a pretty steep couloir we had booted up. I stopped before the top as I wasn’t super stoked on the conditions, but Cody made the push to the notch and was rewarded with even better views. The sun made the ski pretty fun and we cruised back to the RV 3,500 ft below on glaciers like I had never skied before.
The next day we wen to the Bookcases, one of the most iconic and aesthetic area of chutes anywhere. The snow was again downright scary at times, although he views were really cool. We saw a massive bergshrund and a million lines that would be amazing to ski in good conditions.
We took a rest day on Wednesday and drove into Valdez to see what it was all about. Not much, as it would turn out. We checked out some of the fishing boats and balked at the local history museums price before walking up the Valdez Glacier. We found a couple rooms of solid clear, blue ice and gaped at the enormity of the glacier. The theory of glaciation all makes perfect sense in those moments.
The next day we decided to make a day of skiing the Worthington Glacier, close to the top of Thompsons Pass. It was a perfect blue day and we enjoyed skinning up the immense tongue of the glacier. We went all the way to the top and decided to ski a line down what I think was Acapulco, but not 100% sure. There was actually some low density powder snow in this area and we were beyond excited to be in the alpine, booting up something we were actually looking forward to skiing.
I dropped first and had one of the runs of my life. It’s not very often when you have perfect conditions to ski as fast and free as you like. The only requirement was to avoid your sluff (and not fall into the crevasse at the bottom), which I fucked up on. But before that mistake I was making turns on beautiful light snow clinging to a steep open face high above Thompsons Pass with the gorgeous Chugach Stretching in every direction. I was able to make steep, fast turns, railing from edge to edge while dragging my hip on the snow, dancing with the mountain, finding the happy place between letting gravity do its things and the pressure of my edges.
The I decided to stop to take a picture and got crunched by my sluff, pulling my foot partially out of my boot, severely bruising my heel bone, which spelled the end of skiing for me. We went for one more line on the other side of the face, seperated by some rocks from our first line, but I could tell as we approached the top that something wasn’t right. I bid Cody a farewell as we went in our separate directions, me towards the car and Cody towards another couple lines. He ended up with close to 10K of vert this day, while we both got to enjoy the long, mellow ski out the bottom fo the glacier.
That night we drove back to Hatcher Pass where Cody did the Bomber Traverse, although he reported bad conditions once again. He did run into a couple funny Norwegians who were practically butt naked and had been living out of a tent for close to three months. We then drove down to Girdwood and had our first glimpse of a part of Alaska we might actually consider living in. Girdwood was cool and Aleyaska looked like good fun. We slept down the street and spent the next day driving the Sewerd Highway via Turnagan Pass. The mountains along this route looked like some of the best we had seen in terms of skiing. Seward was again a little piece of redemption for opinions of Alaska thus far, being a nice little town on the water. We kicked it and skipped rocks before heading back towards Anchorage. We slept In the rental lot and flew out early the next day with no hassle.
All in all it was a great trip. I only ended up with a minor injury, we got some good, worthwhile Alaska skiing, and drove the entire south central part of the state, getting to see what what Alaska is all about. I learned the sleds rule up there and it would be damn nice to have either a snow machine or heli budget, or bother. Also, Alaska doesn’t have perfect conditions all the time and you need to be patient to ski there. Therefore, its not for everyone. You will be rewarded with some of the best skiing of your life if you have the time and and patience, or you just may get lucky, but you hav e to be willing to do some waiting.