December 31, 2011

Max's New Years Eve

How do great ski trips happen?  Great terrain, great snow, great weather, great partners...  Great spontaneity might not be at the top of the list for things to make a great ski trip, but it was part of one today.  We planned a long trip in the Summit Lake country on an epic mountain; they call it Spirit Walker.  After we embarked on our trek to Spirit Walker, our spirits were drawn elsewhere.  Great partners with judgment, spontaneity, and unanimity elected a course change and we literally turned around to ...
Sunrise on Max's Mountain
As we made our way down the Seward Highway toward Summit Lake, we talked about the great skiing at Summit Lake, and the great number of great places to ski between Anchorage and Summit Lake.  We passed Max's Mountain, and we talked about the stability report for Girdwood:  bombproof, snow report for Girdwood:  heliquality, and the weather report for Girdwood:  about 20 degrees F higher than Summit's minus 7.  Why not go to Max's? 
Our Max's Trackses
Our trip to Max's was even better than we though it would be.  We had great terrain, great snow, good visibility, and great weather relative to other colder places.  J-rock and Nathanael were exceptional partners. 
We were nervous about the final descent through the northern-most rain forest and its scant snowpack - plenty of snowfall, but almost all of it is caught up in the canopy of hemlock boughs.  With blessed karma, we nailed a terrific line through the forest and popped out in the Girdwood neighborhood on Vail.  Max's:  a great ski trip on the eve of 2012's New Years Day.

December 30, 2011

Near Point North Face

After about 100 backcountry runs with Dante, I saw him crash for the first time on a "Manitoba-ish" 25-degree incline on Near Point.  Of course, the crash was prompted by rock lurking beneath the powder.  No, it was more like a boulder, but regardless of the terra firma mass encountered by DP, it was a spectacularly loud crash considering the foot-deep powder we were riding.

DP Carefully Entering Near Point North Face
Near Point summit bowl west face, like Manitoba, is a fine mountain for backcountry skiing.  Manitoba is better, much less rocky, but further from our Anchorage homes.  Near Point is thrilling on lightweight gear, but we were riding the heavy gear today.  A nice trip, Near Point, but a bit of a yawner on heavy gear.  
Ptarmigan Prefer the Near Point Front Side

After the nice-to-see, enjoyable but ho-hum low angle Near Point summit bowl run, albiet with a few rocks, we explored the north face. 

Steep, craggy avalanche chutes and rocky cliffs dominate the Near Point north face.  We checked three entry points and finally found one that seemed workable.  We gingerly tip-toed over a rocky entry and dropped into some fantastic smoke-like powder and rode it down to the valley floor.
Near Point North Face

I paralleled DP's track, but don't float quite as well on two boards.  It was my turn to bounce my board on a rock.  We made a rock-free second lap on the backside when dusk began to set in, so we clambered back up the steep slope to the Near Point west face for our trip back to the house.

December 29, 2011

Knee Deep on Near Point

Near Point in the front range of Anchorage is blanketed with knee deep powder on a soft base.  Yours truly set a skin track up the south flank of Near Point connecting the open areas interspersed among the alder tangles.  It was cold, single digit temperatures (Fahrenheit) with little to no wind.  The snow quality on the tundra above tree line is slightly stiff with a soft wind crust in the beginning stages, but below the brush at 2400 ft elevation, the powder is nearly perfect.  Chugach State Park has some great skiing right now. 

December 27, 2011

More Anchorage Powder

More new snow fell today, another 6" of fresh fluff.  It's been a great season, but far from a record according the Anchorage Daily News.  Doc and I set a ski track on Backdoor Trail with a few minor route adjustments around new deadfall.  Without any skiers for the past couple of weeks and about two feet of fresh snow, trailbreaking was slow.  But, we made it up to the hemlock ridge on Wolverine where we found even more fresh snow that skied fast.

December 26, 2011

Couldn't Last Forever

DP, Eruk and Lucy rallied on Wolverine Bowl to find stiff wind slab resting on a deep soft base.  The exceptional whispy, ultralight snow conditions of 3 days ago vanished with the breeze.   Very good snow conditions remain below tree line, though very slow in the 5F temperature.
Variable consistency of the crust was difficult.  Unconsolidated, cold facets lay beneath the unsupportable crust.  Momentum would just die where the crust stiffened.
Sheep on Wolverine Peak
The sheep had been digging and grazing at my vantage point just before my arrival.

December 25, 2011

A Rusty Christmas Eve

Back to the Anchorage Front Range:  we found exceptional snow quality on Rusty.  Slightly more settled than yesterday, it only ran chin deep on the descent.  It was a bit cooler, 10F.  Snow was knee deep on an icy to rocky base.  Adrian, DP and I made some laps on a northwest-facing couloir/gully of Rusty.  My skis found a few rocks at the top, but there was a good base in the gully.  While the snow was not over-the-head like yesterday, it was very, very good! 

We found significant avalanche rubble at the gully run out.  The rubble was old, icy debris covered with new snow.  It likely had avalanched during (one of ) the prior wind event(s) earlier this month.

December 23, 2011

Over-the-Head Anchorage Front Range

For skiers, Anchorage Front Range peaks are notoriously rocky places that occasionally are blanketed with great powder.  The December 23 front range snowfall was almost beyond description.  Skiers just disappeared in plumes of smokey white.  DP called it the best snow of his life.  Adrian, the Wolverine master, had never seen snow on Wolverine like it.  And it was clearly the best snow yours truly has ever experienced in the Anchorage Front Range, top 10% of my lifetime for all places. 
Adrian's Plume 
Adrian, Sam, Gus and yours truly made it a Stuckagain skifest.  DP skinned up from a not-too-distant neighborhood.  Actually it was a remarkable distance, 14 mile round trip on heavy gear, but not too far for Dante.
Dante's Alpenglow Shot of Yours Truly's "Best Side"

December 22, 2011

Fred's Place

I hope Fred won't mind that I posted his good work on place names.  Hap Wurlitzer has it posted in the Hatcher Pass Lodge.  I heard that the rangers and troopers use Fred's map for search and rescue because it's the best reference.  Fred knows the place; he lives there, that magical place we call Hatcher Pass.
Click to Enlarge
Eruk, AK Robb (by way of CA, aka RocketscientistRobb), and yours truly toured to Pinnacle Lake at the base of The Pinnacle.  We caught some precious glimpses of that spire as the snow fell.  We toured more than turned in the heavy snowfall, searching for the route in flat light on the shortest day of the year.

What a difference a day can make.  Yesterday was crystal clear as we rode the lifts at Alyeska in extraordinary alpenglow.

December 19, 2011

Peak 4068 at Government Peak

Eruk, Lucy and I skied a late lap to 4068 where we found wind-affected snow, but no wind.  The winds of 4068 left mostly stiff, yet skiable snow above timberline.  At the Hatcher Pass Road Mile 10.6 parking area where wind effects were apparent, but not as obvious, there was 4" to 6" fresh snow.

The state gave public notice of a proposed land exchange with the Matsu borough to enable ski area development.  The exchange area is a sweet place for alpine touring, relatively safe and accessible. I have mixed feelings about adding a few chairlifts there, but have no objection because there are so many other places ski at Hatcher Pass in southcentral Alaska.  Funding the Government Peak ski area may take a while, so gaining chair lift access and losing touring country at Government Peak may not happen any time soon.

December 18, 2011


4068 provided a powder escape in spite of the blustery ridgetop winds.  Grey skies, moderate winter temperature, flurries and satisfactory visibility would have perhaps combined to limit the day to a single lap conditioning trip, but the decent snow convinced us to lap 4068 until sunset.

At sunrise, a solo venture was shaping up, but I met dp, Brian, Dan and dog on the mountain and lapped it with them.  Thanks for breaking trail!

Frostbite ridge had excellent snow the day before, but had been worked by the wind overnight and looked crusty.  The 4068 ridge looked better from a distance and turned out to have great snow.

December 16, 2011

Frostbite Friday

We found excellent conditions on Frostbite.  Very little wind, temperatures in the 20's, and a great snowpack with 6" to 12" of powder.  The base varied from a remnant wind pack to soft depending on aspect and inclination.

J-rock, Pete, Bailey and yours truly went up from the lowest parking lot on Hatcher Pass Road.  The Government Peak area is a real gem with outstanding skiing.

December 13, 2011

Chugach State Park Sweetness

Conditions on Wolverine Trail are superb!  Neighbor Sam, two dogs and yours truly found the sweetest snow of the season in Chugach State Park.  Starry night, calm air and powder.

December 3, 2011

Maintenance Day

Temperatures up to 40F.  Wind driven rain saturated everything.  It was a good time to make a few pesky places a little more skiable.