Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Anchorage Ski Outlook - 12.1.2021

Thurs - Fri: clearing, cold temps, light winds (high confidence).
Plummeting temperatures as skies clear across our zone. Windy for Seward, the Thompson Pass road corridor, Whittier, and to a lesser extent the Anchorage Front Range; ridgetop winds elsewhere. Inversions and valley fog, especially Portage, Granite Creek, and East Anchorage.

Weekend: increasing clouds, temps, and winds (high confidence).
Saturday starts out COLD and clear with light winds and inversions/valley fog especially in the usual cold pools. Then temps rise and clouds and wind arrive Sunday with the incoming storm.

Early Next Week: moderate temps, stormy (low confidence).
Stormy Monday/Tues drying into Wednesday with everywhere in our zone picking up snow. Precip totals will be moderate, but snowfall will be boosted by cold air in place. Confidence is low, not on whether it will snow, but where will be favored.
This is my first outlook of the winter, so here's how I go about about figuring out where to ski:


Sunday, November 28, 2021

Fishs Breath - 3.6.2021

Rising straight from the headwaters of California Creek, Fishs Breath's big east face is the kind of dream line that Alyeska skiers dream of from across the Girdwood Valley.

And like any classic that we drool over, its guarded by its own set of gatekeepers. Measuring right around 37 degrees for 2,000 vertical feet, its the perfect angle to harbor a persistent weak layer while surrounding steeper slopes flush. At the bottom of that dangling snowfield is an incised terrain trap that an avalanche could quickly fill with tens of feet of debris. Then there is its location on the far western edge of the maritime zone where the snowpack is thinner and the winds constantly rip through Crow Pass.

In short, everything has to line up for this one, and as we skinned out of the Crow Pass parking lot on a cold clear day last March it looked like we had the conditions we needed. Steph, Tony, and Malcolm seemed to be feeling fast, and we tried to keep up as they turned away from the trail and skinned towards the pass between Magpie and Raggedtop.

At the pass we looked over the cornice and into upper California Creek.

Finding a way around these dangling bulbous drifts is always a good challenge, and we worked our way back and forth peering around and poking thru the cornice until we found a safe spot to enter for the ski towards the climb up our objective.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Petes - January 2021

Early season last winter brought every southcentral Alaskan skier's dream: storm after storm rolling off the Pacific, into the Gulf of AK, then burying Turnagain in feet of snow. The north end of the pass usually gets more snow, and it was getting too much - overloading the snowpack - so we headed south to Petes.

On a January Saturday Tony, Erin, Nyssa, and I broke trail thru the rain crust of the Johnson Pass parking lot towards a refresh of 18 inches of Alaskan velvet awaiting in the alpine. We were joined by Sydney and Rob - old friends of mine from Crested Butte.

It was still stormy as we climbed out of the trees and onto the exposed ridgeline. The avy danger for the region forecast as considerable, and although we didn't think it applied to our end of the pass, it would be a day of slowly working into bigger terrain. So, we started with a low consequence run down the rolling ridge and into the trees. Without the telltale cracking, settling, or moving snow of instability we were ready to move into the alpine.

The next progression was a north facing chute scoured by the predominant storm winds that funnel through the pass. Rob and Sydney skied first into the tight entrance with precise turns that brought back fond memories of many inbounds days in Colorado. We chased them down the chute, whooping gleefully as the storm snow bounced off our faces. The chute had "only" sloughed with no slab movement - another good sign for stability. 

With the clouds clearing we knew it was time to head to the top. Anchorage is as good as it gets for backcountry skiers in the U.S., so it can be easy to get jaded about how good we have it. From the summit of Petes it was awesome to hear the awe of Rob and Syd as the spines, faces, ribs, bowls and mountains of Turnagain opened up around us. We talked about local weather and pointed out some of our favorites, then dropped back towards the road.


Yep. Anchorage is America's last great ski city.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Yanert Traverse - September 2021

The minute we first walked up the Wells Creek ATV trail last fall brought realization of the potential access to so much country and then the dreaming and scheming of potential adventures. One that immediately stood out was a traverse from the Denali Highway to Glitter Gulch at the entrance to the Denali National Park. It wasn't until a year later that our schedules would line up for the Wells Creek - Louis Creek - Yanert - Nenana Traverse.

On a cold and rainy fall evening we drove north, leaving a shuttle Subaru at the Parks Highway bridge over the Nenana River, then turning southeast for the Denali Highway. Where the Nenana joined the gravel road of the "highway" we drove down the zigzag access road to camp where the silty brown Nenana meets the spectacular blue of Wells Creek. The dawn brought a classic crisp fall morning with the peaks above us dusted in new snow. We inflated our packrafts, made sure the car keys were packed, and paddled across the big brown conveyor belt to the ATV trail on the far side.

As moose hunters in jet boats thundered past, we squished the air out of our dripping boats, rolled them up, and stuffed them into our packs.

Photo: Nyssa Landres

Then we followed the familiar trail into the woods. So many of these trails become mud pits straight out of the Fire Swamp from the Prince Bride, but protected from heavy pounding this one is a dryish treat.

Photo: Dmitry Surnin

Climbing out of the Nenana River valley and onto the high plateau, the foothills of the Alaska Range spread out in front of us.

Photo: Dmitry Surnin

Monday, September 13, 2021

Guest Slog Blog - Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic 2021

Cantwell to Sheep Mountain Lodge (160 miles)

by Dmitry Surnin

Start of the "Awesome Valley" 
It’s around 4:30am and I open my eyes to what appears to be hundreds of mosquitos bunched up at the tip of the tent. Buzzing, desperately trying to get out, “are they all full and just wanna dip out?” Charlie wakes up next to me and mentions this is the worst he’s ever felt. The mosquitoes aren’t biting I thought, but the only thing that stung were my feet - I could barely move them without feeling pain. It’s the morning of our fourth day in the Kosina River Valley and we have been covering some ground since this challenge took off roughly 75 miles ago. I painfully crawl out of the shelter to see what the weather is doing, and immediately feel vertigo. I want to vomit. I’m on my knees, and elbows... just waiting to pop. The sickness passes and I begin to look around, it is absolutely beautiful - the morning fog has rolled into the valley overnight and it seemed like we’ll finally have an overcast day. I personally don’t do very well in the heat and the last three days have been insanely hot and bluebird. Today was going to be our most vertical but also our most scenic day. As good as I knew today had the potential to be, my mental and physical state at that moment was depleted. Charlie is packed up and brings up another point of his physical wellbeing, joking that he feels like he has COVID. We already had our low point the day prior at Fog Lakes when we ran out of water, but this was different. This time, we truly felt the repercussions of pushing our bodies. We slowly march towards the end of the valley to begin our climb into the alpine where we’ll experience a complete 180, the summit of our trip so to speak. Covering roughly 7,000 feet of vert and hiking 21-something miles through the most scenic and familiar-to-us terrain. Nearing the end of Kosina River Valley