Thursday, April 30, 2020

Skookum Glacier Skiing - 3.18.2017

Updated 4.30.2020 to include another great day.
Early last week, model run after model run showed a small Wednesday night storm headed for the North Gulf Coast. The question was: would it make it inland? In town on Wednesday night there were a few thin clouds - maybe the storm hadn't made it across the Prince William Sound? Then the rumors of a refresh started trickling in from CPG and the Skookum.

By, the time we were halfway up the Skookum on Saturday our sleds were leaving trenches - the sleeper storm was real. We picked a long and fat north-facing couloir to start with. Across the way we were dreaming about a sinuous chute off the southeast face of Byron:

Photo: Alex Geilich

Dropping in, we slashed the huge cones of slough sitting in the line.

Photo: Alex Geilich


After the upper chute, the face opened up into a large amphitheater.


Then it rolled over, and tighten back up. Alex:

The snow just got better.

The apron stayed deep and we milked cruiser turns down to the sleds.

After lunch in the sun we headed up another skinnier chute. About 1/3rd of the way up, the snow conditions deteriorated, so we dropped back down to the sleds to go looking for better snow. Still, the snow wasn't bad and there was an even better view of Carpathian.

Photo: Alex Geilich

Back on the sleds, we were quickly up and over the Skookum and drooling over the south face of Carpathian. Its awfully thin this year. It will be nice to get it in fat conditions someday!

Photo: Alex Geilich

Following the tracks of a heli group, we set up a long sled lap towards the Spencer Glacier.

Photo: Alex Geilich

Then, hooting and hollering, we dropped into thousands of feet of soul turns together.

Photo: Alex Geilich

Alex and I wanted to go ski the ice fall at the head of the Skookum, but Seth wasn't convinced. We volunteered to guinea pig it while Seth supervised.

There was no way Seth was going to miss out on that kind of fun! He and Alex headed back up while I waited in the evening light.

With snow starting to fall, Seth dropped into the last patches of light:

Everyone was pumped up and full of energy about getting to ski such a dramatic line, and it wasn't quite dark, so we skied one last lap down a short chute to the glacier. Memorably, during the ghost-ride my sled elected to go for an adventure of its own. It took awhile to find it, and even longer to dig it out. Tired and laughing, we headed back in the dark with snow falling in our headlights.

On a weekday at the end of March I took a long lunch and jetted south out of town for a crust ski to the Skookum. Anchorage is a trendy place, when one person gets an idea another 50 are right at their heels. This was no exception. Pulling up at 1:00 PM on a weekday, the lot was full and Subarus, Tacomas, and Sprinters jammed the shoulders.

Leaving the Placer parking lot and going west of the river, it took me 15 seconds to realize that my skate skiing poles were not supportive on the relatively thin crust. Another 15 seconds reminded me that skate skiing thru the deep refrozen tracks of snowmobiles is challenging, annoying, and much less efficient than a fat bike. Farther from the parking lot the icy snowmobile trenches decreased and there were moments of glorious smooth sailing. An hour after leaving the car I was at the toe of the Skookum and staring into the gorge.

I was immediately reminded of the fun and disastrous times we've had back there. Like one day where Zack and I booted the south wall of the gorge, skied sunny bowls on the backside, then dropped chutes into chutes back to the sled. Also, there were Seth's famous last words: "I don't care, I have insurance." Yet it was my sled, not his, that ended up in the crevasse. Go figure. At the head of the Skookum chasm was Carpathian looming larger than life:

Towering above and to the left was the near vertical south wall of Byron. That's still on the hit list; it would link up nicely with Byron's face. Or maybe a sunny double dip along with the south face of Carpathian?

I ate a fig bar, smiled at all the happy people enjoying our public lands, then turned north towards the car. This time I stayed east of the Placer River and found smooth snow that the slednecks had been nice enough to save for the yuppies. Travel was much faster (and less annoying) on the smooth crust and I was back at the car 35 minutes later. Next time I skate to the Skookum, I'll stay east of the railroad tracks from the get go.

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