Friday, November 25, 2022

Culross Island Ski - May 2022

When I moved to Alaska 2013, I spent the first summer here working as a fishery technician sampling spawning salmon in the Prince William Sound. Coming up for air between rotting fish carcass dissections, I was blown away by the beauty of coastal AK - a place indescribably different than the arid Rocky Mountains where I grew up.

Immediately, I wanted those emerald waters, abundant wildlife, and lush bushwhacking to be part of my life. Moreover, I drooled over dreamy stories of skiing the postage stamp islands that dot the protected waterways of the sound. Between sunk boats, swamped boats, and flaming boats, learning how to make this dream a realty has not been easy for this landlubber.

Photo Dmitry Surnin

Over years of experiences that some would call adventures, others would call misadventures, but everyone would call memorable, we've slowly been taught to be slightly less of liabilities on the water. If nothing else, I've at least learned to always pay for insurance and Sea-Tow.

In early May, with a forecast for calm seas and clear skies, Dmitry and Scott entrusted us with their lives, or at least their weekends, and we buzzed out of Whittier...but only after a pit stop on the beach to saw off a malfunctioning addition to the boat.

There is lots of good ski terrain in this emerald gem, but this weekend our destination was Culross Island. Leaving Whitter, we motored across the jaw-dropping mega-fjord of Port Wells highlighted by glaciers tumbling 10,000 vertical feet to the sea. Turned the corner towards our lumpy island destination, we dropped our shrimp pots on the way to anchoring in Culross Bay.

In the bay there were places that still had five feet of snow at the beach. We looked around to find a dry camp spot tucked into a cove before skinning into the temperate rainforest.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Anchorage Ski Outlook - 11.23.2022

Thurs - Fri: moderate temps, light snow, light winds (high confidence).
Thursday starts out clear and calm before snow and clouds arrive lasting into Friday. Clouds/snow arrive first for Thompson Pass/Valdez then the rest of our mountains as the storm moves west. Moderate snow for Thompson Pass with generally light snow elsewhere. No rain concerns. Winds ramp up Friday afternoon as the storm departs.

Weekend: cold, clear, windy (high confidence).
Temps drop thru the weekend with inversions for Granite Creek, East Anchorage, and the Mint Valley. Clearing least complete for Thompson Pass. Strong winds (especially Saturday) for Portage/Whittier, Seward, Thompson Pass/Valdez, the Anchorage Front Range, and Turnagain ridgetops.

Early Next Week: cold, dry, windy (moderate confidence).
Temps keep dropping with a break in the wind Monday. Slight chance of light snow Monday for Turnagain, Portage, and Whittier. Strong winds Tuesday for Valdez/Thompson Pass and to a lesser extent Whitter/Portage and Seward. Ridgetop winds elsewhere. Strong inversions for Granite Creek, East Anchorage, the Mint Valley, and Portage.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Northstar Couloir Ski - 2.13.2022

Its been awhile since I've looked at the pictures from this day and doing so puts a smile on my face. 

Dana leading morning parking lot calisthenics.

Northstar has been on my list for what seems like forever. There's a variety of reasons and non-reasons its remained there for so long, but I think the jist of the delay getting there is the chute's south aspect and relatively long approach coupled with my possibly unreasonable preoccupation for tagging objectives in soft snow. The south aspect means seasonal timing for while its only kissed by the weak angular light of midwinter; but the relatively long approach to the heart of Winner Creek means this south-facing gem often gets deprioritized on these short days when daylight comes at a premium.

The weekend started on Saturday with a stormy day of wallowing in Hanging Valley. The austere grayscale of the snow falling into the rock walls of the couloirs filled our souls with the sense of adventure. We decided to stick with the couloirs-for-contrast program the following day in the Girdwood Valley. 

Large, lazy flakes drifted out of the sky as we left the parking lot at the end of Arlberg Avenue and skinned out the catrack into the temperate rain forest.

Passing the Notch Mountain trees that we have skied on uncountable storm days over the years, we were soon skinning under the dark trees on the north side of Sunnyside. In this forest bent by strong storms raging out of the Prince William Sound, we looked up at the steep trees that are rare for skiing in Southcentral Alaska.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Eagle Lake Chutes - 4.23.2022

The Eagle Lake chutes first came into my consciousness on a cold and deep day of wallowing in Hanging Valley with Brady and Sarah in 2016. Swimming upwards through neck deep snow to claw over a vertical cornice brought us to the small nest at the top of a slanting couloir. On that dark and monochromatic mid-winter day we looked across the South Fork at the impossibly skinny hallways cut into the knob above Eagle Lake:

In a donut hole of snow surrounded by larger peaks, the aprons were a scoured mix of thin windboard and scree. The chutes seemed sized for snowblades more than skis. Since then, those elevator shafts have continued to elude me while I'm occasionally reminded by a peek while packrafting South Fork, skiing Calliope, or after work runs on the likes of Cantata, Hurdy Gurdy, and Triangle.

This February, while shivering in the wind at the top of that same diagonal Hanging Valley couloir with Dane, Nyssa, Tom, and Erin, those lines resurfaced in my frontal lobe.

With a fat snowpack in the Eagle River and Anchorage zones, it was easier to imagine jump turning down the lean corridors.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Yuyanq’ Ch’ex Peaks Ski - 4.24.2022

Like every season, spring here has its own strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, days are long, warm, and sunny. On the negative side, days are long, warm, and sunny. These conditions can make for the smooth and stable snow of melt-freeze cycles, or they can make for unpleasant snow and unstable skiing. We do what we can to forecast the different outcomes, but there's always a little uncertainty. This sunny unknown was the case when Nyssa, Charlie and I skinned away from Canyon Road on a beautiful late April day this year.

First, we headed towards North Yuyanq' Ch'ex figuring that we'd make our gameplan for the day based on what we found there. This corner of the Anchorage Front Range gets hammered by winds arcing through Turnagain Arm as they slosh back and forth between the Prince William Sound and Interior AK. Even late in the year, our ascent chute was scoured to the ground. Maybe someday we'll catch it in the right conditions for a descent.

Nyssa and I had never skied the north couloir that drops from near the summit of the peak, Charlie is a fan, and thinking that it could be the start of a fun day linking up north-facing pinners throughout Chugach State Park we decided to give it a go. It's easy for us Anchorage skiers to scheme up tasty connections on the likes of Homicide, Avalanche, the Ramp, etc. Charlie: