Winter in Alaska is all about patience. A good friend once told me that you essentially spend the darkness of the November, December and January waiting for return of the sun and typically more consistent snows through February, March and April. She went on to explain that she had even tracked the number of bluebird powder days that she got during a winter up here in the Chugach versus what she got back home in the Wasatch range of Utah. Seeing the numbers was astounding--a real eye opening moment to the brutal reality of what winter in Alaska is really like. But it did nothing to erode my determination to move to Alaska. If anything it only strengthened the call of the North.
So this past fall I packed up my truck and fired up the big drive. And then almost exactly as my friend had described I proceeded to wait through the epic darkness of November, December, and January of the driest winter on record in South Central Alaska. As two month long high pressure spells crept by and the lower 48 got hammered with a record breaking winter, I definitely had more than a few moments of wondering if this whole Alaska thing had been a huge mistake.
But then, finally, it dumped. And then it went bluebird. Conditions were miraculously stable despite our thin, weak snowpack, and just like that, it was on!!! My friends and I exploded out of our high pressure induced stupor and put up one of the most ridiculous and aggressive backcountry skiing/riding moments I have ever had the privilege to be a part of, climbing and skiing over 20 thousand vertical feet of powder of the course of three unbelievably epic days. I'm still processing just how good the skiing was. Just the thought of it sends a shiver running down my spine.
We kicked things off with a soaring ridge run along Eddies to get reach an infamous west facing spine wall. The ridge was chossy and exposed in places, a perfect way to get really stoked that dropping into a burly spine clocking in at a pitch around 50 degrees is actually pretty chill. We all felt the moment building as we traversed the ridge, and when we were already to go I got the honor of popping the cork on the celebration since I was the only one on the crew with an airbag pack. But was that just fine by me, and what an honor it was!! I slashed my first turn off the top and went full whiteroom, then blacked out into a state of pure bliss and perfect flow as I laced turns the rest of the way down the face. It was downright unreal. It was a moment both so insane and beautiful that it completely redefined my conception of what skiing is, so next level that it utterly defies any attempt at superlative description. I just couldn't really wrap my head around that skiing ruthless Alaskan gnar was now my life. Hungry for more low density pow we slogged across the bottom of Todd’s Bowl--a deceptively huge place--and then up the the Tincan’s CFR before dropping into another lap of sweet, sweet north facing cold smoke.
But things were just getting started. We went to bed early and hit the skinner at first light, fully intending to wring as much powder as we possibly could out of the impossibly perfect conditions. We flew up the skinner to Taylor Pass, and then skied a short east facing pitch down onto Pastoral. After months of looking at this peak from numerous wind-board adventures on Sunburst, stoke was at an all time high. We bagged the peak, stepped into our bindings, and then lived the Alaskan powder dream. It was so overwhelmingly awesome that we decided another north facing lap into the Lyons Creek drainage was in order. And that was so mega epic that we stacked on yet another huge west facing descent into the golden light of setting sun.
After putting up that much vertical in one day we were super smoked. We dragged our asses out of bed at 11 and were skinning up to Portage Pass by 12:30, expecting a mellow day to explore a new zone. We dragged ass up the skinner for the first few hours, and as we crested the top of the lower angle rolling terrain that constitutes the lower reaches of Bard Peak, we thought our day was probably done. But the power of the powder compelled us, and next thing we knew we were setting a booter up the 50 degree summit cone of Bard Peak. The views of Shakespeare ridge silhouetted against the backdrop of the Prince William Sound on one side and Carpathian Peak towering over the Portage Glacier and Lake on the other while standing on the summit of the peak I had wanted to ski more than anything else in the zone all winter was a moment I will never forget. Stepping into my bindings and ripping turns down the gnarly steep headwall was so sick it's hard to remember aside from almost getting hammered by my sluff when I lost momentarily lost focus due to being just way, way too pitted. We regrouped at the base of the summit cone and then proceeded to gorge ourselves one last time as we party shredded 2500 feet of west facing blower all the way down to shore of the lake. We looked up at Bard, exchanged looks of utter disbelief, and then simultaneous burst into roaring laughter.
One of my favorite things about skiing in Alaska is the endless moments of discovery. As soon as your accomplish one big objective you instantly find yourself face to face with the next one. The image of Shakespear Ridge framed against the Prince William Sound is burned into my brain. Hopefully conditions line up and I get a chance to put my signature on the beautiful spinney mountain, but if not, there's always next year. Thats right, I'm staying in Alaska forever. Because what I learned this year is that not all bluebird powder days are created equal. Just one of the Alaskan variety will change your life forever. Three in a row like that and you might not even remember who you are, or what skiing in the lower 48 is like at all because it just doesn't even come close.