Ahead of any major adventure, questions and unknowns run wildly through my head in anticipation. Wrapping up the AK 2014 trip, I feel similarly. Expectations can be a bitch.
Low tide conditions in AK had us worrying as we started tracking conditions in early March. Then the tap turned on and it snowed 90 inches in a week in Girdwood, surely much more up high. A few days before our departure, high pressure settled in and remains firmly in place over AK. We were excited to head up and see what we could get into, knowing full well we were in store for significantly different conditions than in 2012.
Stoke level was high as we took our first ride into the field
We started off slow, skiing mid elevation wide open slopes. Each run in the heli we hoped we’d be heading higher, but stayed on nature’s groomers most of the morning.
Then it was time for lunch. O lunch! What a lunch it was. We dropped on a shoulder with incredible 360 degree views and enjoyed a warm sunny break with gnar in all directions.
Only prudent to be wearing glacier glasses in a spot like this
This was the start of a trend. Every day lunch was in an incredible ridiculous spot with amazing views. But, we didnt come to lunch.
After lunch we did some more natural groomer skiing in amazing surroundings
Pete below the steep section carving up the apron
GoPro frame airing over the rocks
It was short, probably 500 feet, but it gave us the taste that we needed to keep spirits high and hope the coming days allowed us to step it up
On day two we headed to a fun east facing zone holding good snow to start the day. We got two runs off quickly and were really starting to fire on all cylinders. Here we found a fun little sender low on our first run
Sending it high on the east facing slope. Snow had an interesting texture but was mostly soft
Then a member of a different heli group hurt his knee and needed to be taken back to base. We settled in for an early lunch while the soft snow baked in the sun.
This face was our playground for the first couple of runs. Low tide exposed lots of alders down low, but also some features higher on the slope. Scale in AK can be deceiving
The other side of the valley provided some clues as to why we were playing in the mid elevations. This is probably the biggest slide I’ve seen up close. You can see the fracture line across most of the upper slope and debris piles all the way down at the bottom
After our break we headed back up and searched around for soft snow. Mike found some here on the apron
And some sweet scenic pow after this mid-slope drop off
I found the fun entrance into this run
Later in the day we found some great mid elevation snow on playful rolly pitches close to where we started the day. Mike here on the mini-spine
Pedro following suit
When the heli refueled later that afternoon, we had the chance to check out an incredible ice cave. Mike sending it towards the ice
This was a cool break in the action. Made us wonder if younger generations would also be able to see something like this in the future.
After our break we did some more cruising and found some decent snow
Day 2 provided us great skiing, although mellow, and kept our hopes alive that we’d be getting on some challenging terrain. We felt assured that there was in fact good snow around, and maybe we were just slowly ramping up to the gnar. Mix huge mountains, huge costs, testosterone and adrenaline, and your mind’s a crazy place.
By Day 3, day 7 or so of consistent high pressure, we were running low on available terrain. The decision was made by the guides to travel to a far away glacier to avoid skiing tracked terrain, and hope for the best in terms of snow.
In order to keep from having to refuel in the middle of the day, 2 helis were brought out for the 4 groups, one of which sat turned off in the morning, the other sat in the afternoon. It was fun to be involved in operations/logistics experimentation like this, and the long ride out with the other helicopter in view was awesome
When we got there the views were incredible. A real wilderness feeling with glaciated terrain everywhere. But then we landed on a 25 degree featureless glacier across from far more interesting terrain. We proceeded to glacier skip through the days vertical painfully aware of the cost of each bump to the top.
Pedro arcing the un-gnar
Then another lunch. And what a lunch it was!
But, we didnt come to lunch.
We searched around in the afternoon for more interesting terrain but found difficult snow on most aspects. Marginal conditions didnt stop us from lining up this windlip booter though
Incredible backdrops made for some great photos
After that we waited for some of the slower groups and eventually got word that the fuel situation required that we wrap up the day. The ride home was incredible but accompanied by some sadness. I wish 3 days of glacier skipping in AK didnt feel like failure, but it didn’t feel like success. Many questions remain after the trip. The desire to rip fat spine lines again in AK certainly remains. I’ll probably be back – maybe with expectations less conducive to dissapointment. Probably not though – “let’s go ski that!”
Thanks for lookin