March 29, 2009

Skiing Volcanic Ash

Mount Redoubt erupted. And erupted again, and again and again, so many times that I lost count. It's like trying to count the number of times the wind blew. With so much erupting, Redoubt's grey-brown ash eventually made it to our ski hills.

Like a heavy layer of dust, the ash was buried beneath 5" of fresh snow at Alyeska. Other than the very strange appearance, it had neglible effects on off-trail skiing.

The US alpine skiing championships are being held at Alyeska, and the ash seemed to have little effect on the slalom today. The weather hasn't cooperated for the races - too much snow. And now the Redoubt fallout. How do you wax for ash?

The upper-most Chair 6 closed at 1:40 p.m. today. The resort reported high wind was the reason for the closure; the peak gust recorded so far today was 39 mph according to the weather station at the top of the quad. Tanaka had untracked snow near the southern boundary, so we played there for several short runs after Chair 6 closed.

March 28, 2009

Fresh Four

Last week's chinook was replaced with spring snow; about four fresh inches accumulated on the Anchorage Hillside. After sending off our pride and joy, our uber kid, the perfect child back to college this morning, then some heartbroken moping, and with volcanic ash from Mt. Redoubt blowing elsewhere, skiing Near Point's fresh four was necessary.

Near Point, in the background above the homestead, looked whiter than it really is. The upper 500 feet were extremely boney, not worth returning. Near Point alpine was generally difficult, either rocks or sastrugi lurked beneath the four fresh. Below the brush line skied OK with mashed potato-like glop on southern aspects, and soft powder on western aspects. The Near Point tilted terraine has been better, but Near Point Trail presently has exceptional touring conditions. North-facing aspects are still great above 1500 ft, and slightly crunchy beneath the fresh 4" at lower elevations.
South facing slope
West facing slopes had good snow, but north facing slopes are the best.

Near Point Trail

March 22, 2009

Stuckagain Skiing

After a marvelous run of sunny days with cold nights and great snow, we awoke to 6" fresh at Stuckagain! While a couple of feet has fallen in small amounts, this is the largest snowfall since our big meltdown in January. This called for Front Range foray.

Backdoor Trail

Breaking trail became a chore above timberline on Wolverine with the trail sinking knee deep. Perhaps it was 5 straight days of touring on the rugged touring set up, which compared to downhill or AT, demands a little more from those little muscles in the feet and a lot more from the big core muscles. In any case, I feel it, and it hurts so good.

Wolverine Trail

Had to return to the line I tried a couple of days ago. I found the descent this time. It's not so much the line, but the snow quality on the line; I found the good snow. But, I struggled to find the gap in the alders to cross the ravine and reach the north ridge of Wolverine. After a little searching I found it - it's easy to see from a distance as shown below.

After catching the Alyeska and Arctic Valley snow reports, I wondered if hanging around Stuckagain was the best place to be. And it turned out that the snow quality here is very, very good - no face shots, but worthy of the effort and time.

March 20, 2009

Ski Train

Curry, Alaska. Railroad through nowhere.

A sunny and breezy tour and a fun trip on the train. Curry has nice touring terraine. We arrived a few days after the wind and found variable snow conditions, from a few inches of fluff, to boiler plate, to semi-supportable crust.
The Ski Train is a great event organized by the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage. About 800 people make the trip. Highly recommended.
Oom-pah, Oom-pah

As the train passed through the model community of Alaska, Wasilla, we looked for Russia and almost could see her.

We'll Sing in the Sunshine

Wolverine North Ridge was the picture of perfect spring skiing, I had to sing, I had to laugh. Sunny skies, high 20's, and cold snow. Even though I missed the line I hoped to descend (southern blue line), the loop up & down (northern blue line) the northern ridge of Wolverine was a nice late afternoon tour with a good number of turns. The northern descent was slightly wind licked. The preferred line not apparent from the top, became obvious from immediately below it - beautiful powder. A good reason to return to Wolverine.

We'll sing in the sunshine.
We'll laugh every day.
Then I'll ski on my way.

March 19, 2009

Sublime Spring Skiing

Backdoor Trail is simply sublime skiing. The ephemerality of snow in the sunshine is sublime. That wonderous, warming insolation inevitably destroys the magnificent mixture of air and snowflakes skiers love. Powder, fluff, fresh, pure. It surely will be gone.

Grieve not its sunny departure. Only enjoy it while you can. We'll get more snow, perhaps this season, definitely next. The approaching vernal equinox signals our thaw, and the soon to be awakening flowers and already awake bears (one in the bird feeders yesterday). We'll see the downy moose calves, brawling bear cubs, and spawning salmon. Until then, enjoy powder in the sunshine!

March 18, 2009

Almost Springtime

Longer days, sunshine and great snow add up to skiers' hedonistic karma. Our cold nights have preserved our snow really well; near zero F at night and near 30F for the daily high create nearly perfect powder preservation AND skiing. Elevations between 800 ft to tree line have excellent pow on the western and northern aspects of Near Point and Wolverine Peak. There is some sun effect on the due south aspects, but most of the trails and lines are western aspects.

This evening was comprised of a scrumptious supper, 1300 ft lap with a couple of miles of touring and telemarking (love the tour AND the turn), followed by a neighborhood meeting on the "Far North Bicentennial Park Draft Trail Improvement Plan". More to come on the 'plan'.

March 15, 2009

Sunshine to the Max

From the Seward Highway, Max's Mountain

Begin with the end of a wonderful day of sunshine on Max's. Skin track is on looker's left.

Lap 3

Yesterday's skiers dug a few pits. One loud settlement whoomphed in the forest at 1400 ft el, but otherwise no signs of instability. I stayed above 2300 ft el until the last run.

Today's laps were 1200 ft vert on a nice low angle, multi-lap track.

Alyeska looks small from Max's.

March 14, 2009

Arkose Ridge

Arkose is a sedimentary rock with a lot of quartz in it.

Arkose Ridge is a front range massif of the Talkeetna Mountains with a lot of powder on it. J48, J-Rock, Andrew, & yours truly made a day of it on Arkose Ridge. Sun effects were evident on the south-ish and western aspects. The northern aspects were smoke-like.

J48 & uberdog, Cody.

This could be trouble.

Suncrust was like an egg shell, except where it was grabby.

Cody watched intently, rescue ready.

The Talkeetnas are endless.

March 13, 2009

Heavenly Hillside

Skiing on the Anchorage hillside is excellent, a mildly surprising condition given our lack of a big storm for a long spell. But, we have had an inch or two a few times and it is accumulating to a respectable snowpack below treeline. Yesterday's creamy 2" fell on a fresh couple of inches from last week, and so on. The pattern light, but frequent snowfall is skiing 12" deep on the lower flanks of Rusty. Telemark heaven.

March 8, 2009

Anchorage Front Range Fun

The Anchorage Hillside has excellent skiing. The soft snow on the western flanks of Near Point and Rusty were gently complemented by afternoon sunshine peaking through the late winter overcast. The late winter snow pack needs the snowfall that may coming with the increasing clouds. No other skiers were out today; some were probably skiing the Tour of Anchorage.

March 7, 2009

Ship Creek

Ship Creek access is a convenient adjunct to Arctic Valley. Today's foray was a short one with lift assist. After a few chilled runs in the windy, mostly sastrugiscized Arctic Valley, Dr Snow & yours truly exited the south side of the ski area to find excellent snow. We did a quick run from Chair 1 (southernmost existing lift) down the groomed trail. We found excellent powder in the ridiculously narrow gaps in the brush above the road.

We rolled over the lip at the site of the old military ski area and skied excellent powder on a more open southwest facing slope below the present-day Arctic Valley Road, an area once served by a surface lift. The USGS map still shows 4 ski lifts, but the southern most on the map, a chairlift which had been operated by the military, was removed in the 1990's. The surface lift is not shown on the USGS maps and was removed in the 1960's; but if you look carefully, you can still see the roof of the old warming hut. This website has more history:

Only (mentally) disabled skiers ski this brush

The old surface lift base hut, 2 years ago.

From the Anchorage Powder Guide:

Ship Creek is one of those play and then pay runs because it descends from the road. It is one of the few areas I have skied and never seen another skier (outside of my party) nor have I seen other tracks, other than my own. It is the site of a long demolished lift marked by the abandoned lodge still standing at the bottom of the old lift site.

Skiing Vertical and Distance: 1300 feet vertical; 2 mile ascent

Getting There: Two options exist for parking. My preferred option is parking near the gate for the old military ski area. As you are driving up Arctic Valley Road, above timberline, about a quarter mile before you reach the ski area parking, there will be another (probably unplowed) road on your right leading to the razed lodge facilities for the military lift. A second parking option is the large pull out at the Ship Creek Trailhead.

Descent: From the Ship Creek Trailhead, ski or walk up the road to the spur road leading to the old military ski area. Ski along the access road for the old military area beyond the gate, then look for a gap in the alders to drop off the road to skier’s right. Then traverse to skier’s left and the run will open up. Alder patches and other brush create the need for some route finding, but it is fairly easy to link the open areas together with little to no bushwhacking. It is not a bad idea for first timers to ski the developed trail from Ship Creek Trailhead to become oriented with the trail switchbacks.

Ascent: The Ship Creek Trail descends from the Arctic Valley Road to the Creek, some 1300 feet vertical below the road. After skiing approximately 700 feet vertical down the run, either traverse to skier’s right to the Ship Creek Trail, or continue descending the fall line to Ship Creek Trail, then follow Ship Creek Trail back up to the road. Erring toward skiers’ right is the best policy to avoid missing Ship Creek Trail, but traversing too high up will cause you to do more bushwhacking than necessary.

March 6, 2009

Wolverine AnthropoScene

Humans have clearly affected the earth, and Paul Crutzen defined the era, but its outcome is difficult to imagine.

Whether our present lifestyle and population density can be sustained is a major question. And, even though a minimum carbon footprint ski day using Backdoor Trail to access the mountains without using an internal combustion engine was nice, it did not give me a holier-than-thou feeling because our place requires a lot of btu's and juice to make it comfortable. Thank goodness for that clean-burning Cook Inlet natural gas!

Wolverine above timberline was blustery with big plumes blowing off the ridge lines. But, those mega-plumes did not affect on the creamy snow below timberline. Beautiful sunshine, excellent snow, and a new line made my anthropocene contemplation fade away.

Backdoor Trail was faster today. I took my camera, but left the memory card plugged in the computer at home. So, I cannot give you images of what Doc called a "Robbie Trail." I don't believe it was intended as such, but I took that description of Backdoor as quite a compliment. Near Point and Wolverine Trails were exceptional! Snowpack is a bit thin for late winter, but the skiing was GREAT! And the new line I found on Wolverine was great, too. If you can't stand a little bushwhacking, the down route (blue) might not be for you.

March 5, 2009

Lazyman Loppet

Doc and yours truly skied from Glen Alps to Stuckagain, thanks to the shuttling by our better halves. Photographrette dropped us off, and Cinder brought us back, with exceptional skiing in between. With the wind at our backs, we skied the storm!

A little storm brewed and blew from Powerline Pass down Campbell Creek while we skied Lazyman. We were fortunately skiing with the wind.

Anchorage Hillside offers some great trails in Chugach State Park. We enjoyed a couple of inches fresh powdery snow on the Middle Fork Loop and Near Point Trails (east of Campbell Creek). The snow pack seemed thin, but it provided adequate coverage for great skiing.

The Lazyman starts at about 2250 ft el, and descends to 800 ft el, with about 450 ft climbing and a gross descent of 1900 vertical feet over 6. 5 miles. Pretty easy skiing. But, we added a level of difficulty by starting in a blizzard and ending in the dark. A great trip - highly recommended.

March 4, 2009

Back to Backdoor Trail

Backdoor Trail had quite a hiatus - January 13 was my last ski on it. A hurricane-like storm blew 40-degree air through here for 5 days and just decimated the snowpack. This year's early snowpack was fairly thick, but low density, and it was no match for the extended chinook.

Since then, a few inches now and then has accumulated to skiable conditions. The trail seems more like early November, not early March. But, it's a lot better than some alternatives.

It was good to be back in the track on Backdoor - a nice break from the work-a-day that has been less than pleasant lately. Two friends on my work team got laid off today. The company's explanation is understandable, but it is a very sorrowful event, a sad sign of the times.

March 1, 2009

Hiland Road

Kruser, Dr. Snow & yours truly tracked up Rendezvous with 250 of our best powder-seeking buddies. It was a good day at Arctic Valley with exqusisite, smokey untracked powder. After riding Markman's lifts for 20,000 ft verts and then finding no untracked 50-turn lines, Doc and No-Tracks Jack embarked on a Hiland Road adventure.

We exited the ski area at the saddle between Mt. Gordon Lyon and Rendezvous and skinned up Gordon Lyon, then skied down toward Hiland Road. The descent toward Hiland is not recommended due to avalanche hazard.

Doc found a nice line.

We played, then paid. The price of climbing back up toward home was well worth the prize.