March 28, 2010

Springtime in Girdwood

Turk worked his big boards with a mastery of the mank.

Girdwood is a wet place. It's claim as the northern-most rain forest has me convinced. But, not far above the base elevation, the 'light precipitation' was falling in the form of a structured crystal in the late afternoon.

The snowpack down to 2000+/- ft el remained wintery all day, but by late afternoon, the 24" fresh in 24 hours had become a gloppy mashed potato base down to about 500 ft where it had become slushy.

The image below is Alex carrying some velocity.

Colorado Mine

Perseverence paid off as J-Rock and yours truly ascended some truly heinous melt-freeze crust on the eastern aspect. The unbreakable crust evoked thoughts of ski crampons, but countouring north brought the safety of breakable crust.

Can't remember the last time breakable crust was a relief. But as we wrapped around the countour from the east to north aspect, the snow continued to improve until we found what we sought. Back to the sun, the north facing bowls were blanketed with boot-top powder of the most incredible consistency.

With a Turnagain Pass whiteout, we postponed our Pastoral Peak trip and opted for an exploration of the Summit Lake country; as luck would have it, this trip reached the top ten in the spring skiing annals. DP gets creative credit for the trip concept. It was good to see Dante, Carl, and Jared on the hill though we were out of phase on the ascent and descent. Another friendly party of five made a total of ten powder seekers at Colorado Mine, but the mile-wide bowl provided the opportunity for all to enjoy the untracked experience.

March 21, 2010

Rusty Bowl

From a distance, Rusty Bowl looked like wind hardened sastrugi, but it was a classic example of "ya gotta go to know", and it turned out to be much better than it looked. We wondered aloud on the approach whether we could even skin up. Later, MW skinned about as high as possible, and we found some sweet soft snow to ride.

The snow was obviously wind blown, but in the north-facing gully depressions it was soft enough to lay some fun tracks. MW's enthusiastic statement from afar, "It doesn't look that heinous," kept yours truly from bailing to a whiter slope. Glad we kept on.

MW started at Prospect Heights, and I started skinning up at Roger's Lake in Stuckagain, then we met on the trail for a nice spring ski. Stuckagain neighborhood roads were snowy and icy enough for a fast ski home.

March 20, 2010

Arkose Aspects

Equinox skiing at Hatcher Pass vicinity offered shady powder, breakable sun crust, sugary granules, slush, and glop, plus everything in between. Arkose Ridge via a direct approach from Hatcher Pass Road has been a long time wish. Finally, I made it there. After studying the slope for a good while, I decided to go up.

The uptrack was difficult with bottomless granular sugary crystals. Boot packing was a welcome relief until encountering a few waste-high boulders that appeared, of course, to be shin-high until the snow bridge broke and revealed a waste-deep baseless, sugary wallow.

Concerned with stability and a cornice, I chose a not-north-enough line to start. A half inch of fresh covered a scritchy base that transitioned through breakable crust to powder as the line wrapped from southwest around to a northwest aspect.

Aspect is key this time of year. After so many springtime ski trips, I'm still amazed at the radical difference in the snow with a slightly different aspect. Seemingly minor differences in azimuth and incline can make the difference between smokey powder and breakable sun crust. The aspect game adds another dimension to powder seeking, ski the shadow and find the powder!

March 19, 2010


DP guided yours truly to Tri-Tip, an excellent adventure in the glades above Summit Lake. Above tree line was a vertigo inducing whiteout early in the day, so it was good that we started a little on the late side. Skied til 7 pm.

We ventured only a few hundred feet vertical above the trees and made a few laps down to Tenderfoot Creek.

We rode the northwest aspect in a gale with horizontal snow above treeline. Our tracks filled in with each short 800-ft lap. But below treeline, there was no wind and the large fluffy flakes drifted almost suspended in mid air. The glade was typical Kenai Mountain nirvana, steep rollers with fantisimo go-where-you-want snow. Our tracks kicked off snowball rollers at the bottom of the lap. 37F at the lake when we returned at 7 pm.

March 17, 2010

Darkside of Arctic Valley

Beautiful sunshine and the mountain called. Up and over the backside of Toklat Creek at Arctic Valley, I skied down toward Hiland Road on boot top snow with a slight windlick. Then back up Rendezvous where the sastrugi, carvable sastrugi, and breakable crust tested the Stokes, and then gave way to sweet powder.

After descending the backside, observing this slab was unsettling. But, the release pictured and another one on a similar slope occurred on a convex rollover. I carefully measured and chose more moderate inclines to ride, but I wished that I could have seen this before the descent.

March 15, 2010

Stoke Report

The Greg Hill's got it. Haven't met Greg, but Day 2 on his signature skis confirmed the preliminary evaluation. Stoke uphill performance is exceptional. The light weight, 130 mm shovel, and 25 cm early rise tip helped set the uptrack really well in the mid-calf trail breaking on the upper reaches of Baumann's Bump yesterday.

Baumann's Bump, aka Max's, was blanketed with 6" fresh, unsettled snow resting on a soft base. The fresh snow sloughs were running ~500 feet vertical, and were stout enough to knock a man down. But, it skied like a dream.

The Stokes are so good, they can ride the hill all by themselves. Yours truly failed to fully engage my right toe binding, and it let go on a 35-degree slope. It didn't feel right after just a few turns, and as I was pulling up to check, it popped off, and ran.

And ran. And ran.

It was sadly fortunate that the slope was untracked and the lone ranger ski left a clear trail. Riding a single ski down that beautiful line with perfect snow was humbling, but finding my new 1/2 Stoke was such a relief. Why it stopped is a guess, but we found it tip-down stabbed in the snow up to the front binding. After our Save the Stoke mission, we made several more turns in the alpine bowl of Max's, and then rode the glade.

The Stokes seemed divine, but then just about any pair of planks would work in Max's snowpack, and perhaps the snowpack was divine and the Stokes are just great instruments to feel the divinity. Stokes felt absolutely perfect in the untracked.

Skiing tracks, the Stokes felt stable, but the Scarpa Spirit 3 felt a little lame, too soft. Can't recommend the Spirit 3/Stokes combination for a lot of resort skiing. But, for the untracked experience, the combination was excellent. And after all, why ski tracks?

March 14, 2010

Spring Forward Effect?

Twenty-three hour day, I don't know.

Today's session ended with a lecture by a ski patrol. I was mistaken in my belief that they don't mind people traversing from outside into open ski runs.

Geo, WK, and yours truly skinned to the Max's weather station from Timberline Drive. Our ascent stayed well outside of the ski area. They do not want BC riders to cross the boundary regardless of whether the particular run is open or not due to avalanche concerns, etc.

Max's weather station: 26F 4 mph avg

A 2009 US report per Wikipedia claims that workers get injured more often and more severely on the 'spring forward' Monday. We were a day early, but survived the spring forward ski day without injury, save our beaten brows.

But, it was worthwhile with the remarkable snow up high yielding those huge exhuberant smiles all around.

Geo shredded the slough.

WK found the fresh.

March 13, 2010

Greg Hill's Stoke

The Greg Hill Stoke by Dynafit arrived, thank you UPS; very exciting. Geno and yours truly tested the Stokes with a slog on Backdoor Trail and an alpine adventure on Near Point with sastrugi, semi-supportable crust, and why we live to ski: powder. Stoke on.

Geno's 1st STOKED glide

Can't speak for Geno, but I gave the Stoke an A+! With the varied conditions, the Backdoor Trail / Near Point trip proved to be a terrific test. Slogging on the Stokes was like slogging on anything else, but they are very light. The Stokes translated the sastrugi into little pain. The semi-supportable crust was enjoyable on the Stokes; a couple of weeks ago I 'survived' similar snow on my free-heeled rugged touring set up.

Stokes floated through the fluff like a sweet dream, and that was the ascent. Riding the Stokes down evoked a feeling of weightless flight. Twenty-five centimeters early rise of the tip assist the climb, and inject exhilaration into the descent.

Stoke, the Greg Hill signature skis, by Dynafit made the grade: A+

March 12, 2010

Glen Alps to Stuckagain

The Lazyman Loppet, that tour of the Anchorage Hillside with a net 1400 ft descent, had near perfect trail conditions with a nice ski-set track the whole way through the powdery fluff. Doc and I set out at 5 pm from Glen Alps under clear skies and calm air and made it to Cindy's Ski Hut at Stuckagain in an alpenglowing sunset.

It was a marvelous trip. Cindy taxied Doc and me to Glen Alps where we found no people, but some beautiful downhill ski tracks on Flattop and O'Malley. We made the 2000 ft gross descent to Stuckagain via Chugach State Park Middle Fork Loop, Wolverine Bowl Trails, and Lost Cabin Valley Trails.

It was a great time visiting with Doc and KK who was very kind to pick up Doc at Cindy's Ski Hut. Yours truly extends a heart-felt thanks to our wonderful womenfolk who made our Lazyman Loppet possible.

March 11, 2010

Breaking Trail

This season's trail breaking has been easy, until the latest storm blanketed Stuckagain with 20" of cold snow. Slogging in the knee deep, 2-day old stuff was a cardiomax workout, but the return trip was worth the effort.

Thirty-degree tilt was needed to sustain momentum, and even then it was a slow motion descent. A little more settlement and it will be perfect.

March 9, 2010

Storm of the Season

It dropped about 20 inches, blew just enough to create 3 to 4 ft drifts, and snowed us in at Cindy's Ski Hut. Trail breaking was slow going, but it was great to get a big storm, the biggest of the season. Anchorage snowfall is finally on par for the season.

Backdoor trail is buried. Had to use a shovel to get out the backdoor!

March 7, 2010

Tour of Anchorage Hillside

Must have been a great day for the Tour of Anchorage with 6" fresh snow, sunshine, temperature in the midteens for the start. I'm guessing the fresh snow was exquisitely groomed to perfection by race time.

Anchorage Hillside touring and turning was my choice today, and conditions were exceptional. More touring than turning. The alpine snow was wind licked, but perfect conditions were found in the forest.

March 6, 2010

An Expensive Day

It's Greg Hill's fault.

His signature STOKE ski by Dynafit started a chain reaction that ended with a wrecked 4Runner, a broken camera, some nice powder, and two pairs of Greg's Stoke model ordered and on the way to AK. It's a complicated tale.

Geno & BJ on the trail.

Geno and I really had to have them, the Stokes, the Greg Hill ski. After independently shopping, we compared notes, and both found the Stoke's allure irresistable. Hitting the enter key at the online shop put the events in motion for an expensive day.

Geno leads to a glade.

Back to the events. Geno and yours truly independently hit the enter key to send a pair of Dynafit Stokes to Geno & BJ's place, and another pair to Cindy's Ski Hut where Cindy allows yours truly to camp full time.

Fired up with anticipatory stokage, we embarked on a preStoke trip to test BJ's new AT set up. We skin up the old military area at Arctic Valley and make a run in the winter storm. BJ deems her set up worthy of more skinning and shredding. Geno suggests we move up the valley. It's unanimous.

5 Mile Trail - we rode the best of it, about 300 ft powdery verts.

After enjoying the best bit of 5 Mile Trail, we skin back to the 4Runner, load up, and don't have time for the driver to change out of ski boots. Two stuck rigs litter the ditch between us and the parking area up valley about a half mile and 200 ft vertical away, but up we drive anyway. We make it beyond the two ditch divers and upward motion grinds to a stop. Geno and I hop out and push. We're like mosquitos fighting a gale. I knew it was bad when I saw the two tires on my side locked and skidding with the 4Runner sliding downhill backwards and gaining speed.

"Push her in the DITCH!", Geno yelled. Mosquito-like, we pushed the 2-ton sliding mass. 350 lb v. 4000 lb, the winner was obvious. Knocked down by the careening 4Runner, I rolled and dodged the 4Runner sliding backwards down the sloped road.

"LOOK OUT! LOOK OUT!" Geno's got a big voice, and the people digging out the ditched vehicles below heard in time, they scrambled up on the berm. CRACK, the 4Runner nearly missed the 1st rig, but the sidemirror whacked it, broke, and flaccidly flopped on the fender. This set the 4Runner on a slow spin as it slid down the icy road. The spin set the 4Runner rear bumper on a direct course for the 2nd stuck rig, a new red pickup. BAM, the 4Runner bumper bounced off the red truck's rear quarter panel, leaving it one dent richer. Couldn't be helped.

BJ and the 4Runner finally came to a stop near our prior parking spot with the driver's side mirror dangling by its wires.

Thank God, those diggers trying to free the rigs from their snowy traps dove out of the way and didn't get smashed. The two ladies, Ma and Gramma, in the 1st rig were all shook up and wanted to get out of there. Gramma was dressed in pedal-pusher capri cotton pants, slip on canvas slippers without socks, a tee shirt with a light jacket; within an hour of hypothermia in the winter storm. A little heavy with a bad knee, she was afraid to walk down the road, but after getting whacked by the 4Runner, she was afraid to stay in their stuck Bronco. Her daughter finally convinced her to walk down the hill. Geno and I helped Gramma down the road. HONK! HONK!

Another vehicle was sliding down the road out of control, coming right for us! Geno pushed Gramma onto the berm and dove. We escaped, but the poor red truck got smacked again. Surviving the near miss, we pulled Gramma up to her feet, brushed her off, and walked her down another few hundred feet and put her in the warm but dinged 4Runner.

The snowplow pulled out the rigs. Ma and Gramma wouldn't set foot in their old Bronco, so I drove it down to the sledding hill pickup where their kids waited. BJ and Geno taxied Ma and Gramma in the 4Runner.

BJ leads Geno to the pow.

After the bumper car and Gramma rescue episode, we calmed down and agreed: day is young, snow is soft, and we're here. Let's ski. Our exploration above the Ship Creek Trailhead was an emotional respite, a welcome retreat ensconced in powder.

Epilogue: My post ski limp is more prominent than usual with a deep thigh bruise, and my camera is broken. Apparently the camera in the midthigh 'guide pocket' of my pants took the brunt of the careening 4Runner knocking me down.

Smashed side mirror, 2 dinged ditch divers, and broken camera.
And, 2 pairs of Greg Hill signature STOKE skis. An expensive day, but we did find the untracked experience.

March 1, 2010

Municipality of Anchorage Weekend

Friday night touring on Anchorage hillside: 8" fresh, ideal winter weather, and a beautiful sunset. Headlamp was handy after 7 pm.

Saturday riding the volunteer-run Arctic Valley antiquated lifts. Two out of three lifts are broke. Conditions were good, line was long. Pleasant 10,000 ft vertical.

Sunday finding the untracked experience on the North Face from Alyeska's tram. Face shots and knee deep at 4:30 p.m. Exhuberent 40,000 ft vertical.

All within, but only a small sampling of the Municipality of Anchorage.