Thursday, April 4, 2024

Mount Ben Stewart Ski - 3.24.2024

After a great tour around Sheep Creek on the Juneau mainland the day before, on Sunday we headed up the Eaglecrest road for a tour centered around Mount Ben Stewart. From the parking lot we skinned up the softening groomers of the ski area towards Cropley Lake. At the lake we looked up at the cooking corn in the Cropley Chute above us. 

With the chute looking deliciously soft and sunny, we couldn't resist a lap there, so skinned past it towards the pass to ascend from the back side.

As we gained elevation, Stephens Passage and Admiralty Island sprawled out below us. Maybe its because at heart I'll always be a Rocky Mountain kid, but I just can't get tired of feasting my eyes on these sparkling inside channels of salt water.

Soon, we were standing on the knob above the chute and peering over the edge in search of the entrance to the line. Tucked between a rock wall and a mix of edgeable moss, blueberry bushes, and tundra ready for summer, we found what we were looking for.

Warmed by hours of spring sun, the corn in the chute was just what we'd hoped for. Nyssa:


We harvested turns of corn until the pitch of the slope ran out at the lake, then stopped for a snack while we admired our run. Munching on colorful processed Costco sugar we watched the next group gleefully carve the buttered snow of Cropley. Their stoked was infectious, and we slapped on our soggy skins for another trip up Ben Stewart.

From the top, we looked across to the west face of Hawthorne Peak rising out of the mainland. which Nyssa and I had skied the day before. Twice, we've been turned around in our running shoes by hard summer snow over exposure near the summit of Hawthorne. It was nice to finally get this one while it was covered in a slightly softer form of frozen water. Our crampons helped too.

Kia had flown in late from Valdez the night before, and we were happy that she'd rallied to join us. This time we dropped into the south bowl of Ben Stewart.

Here on the backside of Douglas, the terrain wasn't as steep, but floating down the rolling meadows over water shining in the afternoon light was blissful.

We skied until the dripping and nearly impenetrable rainforest rose up around us, then transitioned again for another climb back up to the ridge. Mere miles from, but out of sight of town and the ski area, I felt the sticky glue of civilization dissolve away in this peaceful zone.

The shadows were getting long and we had a plane home to catch, but it was so so so hard to drag ourselves away from the magic of the island and back towards the car. We picked a south facing chute slow-cooked to perfection by the weak northern sun. Nyssa:


Skiing snow zambonied by days of melt-freeze cycles, we followed our chute to the gully that brought us back to double-pole across Cropley Lake.

From Cropley Lake, we chased each other down the slopes of Eaglecrest to the base of the ski area. In a parking lot seemingly lost in time from a slower era before high speed quad chairlifts, we chatted with friends soaking in the rare sun.

Then, with a bit of time to spare before our flight, we stopped on the beach for a beer. Staring into the endless rippling forms of the shifting ocean refracting the angular evening light, we dreamed about what special nooks and crannies Kia might show us the next time we're gifted with a visit to this enchanting northern rainforest.

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