March 31, 2012

South Fork Powder Corn

Spring sunshine at South Fork
Powder in the shade
Corn in the sun
Swiss Bowl North Facing Powder

Swiss Bowl South Facing Corn

Without fresh snow for a couple of weeks, the snow in the shade is slightly stale but skied well.  Snow in the sunniest aspects loosened up at about 2:00 p.m.

The small slab avalanche shown above was there when I arrived.  I think it had naturally released a couple of days ago.

March 30, 2012

Shady Chutes of Hanging Valley

Ski touring in the scenic South Fork country at the end of Hiland Road has so many options from kick-and-glide skiing in the valley floor to lapping alpine powder bowls to dropping into steep couloirs.  Overlooking the South Fork of Eagle River is Hanging Valley just beyond the end of Hiland Road.  Nathanael and yours truly skied up the Hanging Valley to its cirque in the shadow of Hurdygurdy Mountain.
Kicking steps up the couloir was exhausting, but thanks to Nathanael's stamina we topped out on the overlook.
The north facing shady couloir protected the snow from the sun, but after a couple of weeks since the last storm, the snow was a little stale.  Though the snow wasn't great up high, it was worth the climb to the overlook where some sheep came down the slope of the sunny side.  The lower two-thirds of the cirque had very good cold snow.
Stairway of Pain
Testing the Snow
We crossed the cirque from the shade to the sunshine and skied up a slushy slope and enjoyed a view of the couloir, but we enjoyed the ride down more.
With the sun asecnding higher each day and our season waning, slope aspect makes such a difference.  Finding cold smoke in the shady cirque was our hope, and the sunny corn was a bonus.

March 25, 2012

Tri-Tip with TelePete

It was a pleasure skiing with TelePete, Karl, and DP at Summit Lake.  TelePete's knowledge of the Summit Lake ski scene is legendary and listening to the Summit Lake master's insight of the area is a special treat.  It was a fine group and what an excellent powder day we had at Tri-Tip
Master TelePete & Karl's Helmet
We followed a solo skier up the Tri-Tip ridge and lapped the northerly aspects until our legs ached.  Repeatedly, as we reached the high turnaround, I silently said to myself:  this could be the final lap.  But, after riding smooth cold smoke on the steep pitch of Tri-Tip, we had to do more.  Finally, as the sun moved down the Alaskan horizon, we were due back home, maybe overdue, and in the alpenglow we finally had to leave our alpine powder dreamscape and return home from Tri-Tip.

Dante's Mountain Art
Tri-Tip has some sick couloirs, super steep powder rivulets feeding the basin at the bottom.  DP and yours truly found a slightly convex one a ways back on the Tri-Tip ridge.  Its convexity just obscured the bottom third of the line, but we had faith.  When we came upon some cliffs beyond the roll-over, we began to question our faith.  After cutting some sloughs that ran several hundred vertical feet, we meandered our way through the rocks and floated down to the basin glisse to cheers from ourselves.

I could not imagine better backcountry skiing.
Old Man Air
Photocredits:  Dante
Sorry, Max, but in our excitement, we forgot to record images of the cliff bands.  Another reason to go back!

March 21, 2012

Kanchee Karma

After the vernal equinox has passed and the light-deprived souls at latitude 61N can enjoy more than 12 hours between sunrise and sunset, after work ski tours are no longer shadowy trips in darkness lit by head lamp or moonlight.  The Anchorage spring time after work ski becomes a late afternoon glisse brilliant at first, then settling into an alpenglow ensonced descent to a warm home.  Skiing by moonshadow in midwinter can be dreamlike and deeply enjoyable, but descending through alpine powder in the long light of the northern sunset of spring warms the spirit, even though the temperatures are quite cold.  Inspired by the brilliant afternoon sunshine of this equinox, yours truly was compelled to scout Kanchee.

Jon and I have discussed various lines of the Anchorage Front Range so many times I've lost track, but we always mention Kanchee - how it's just there and so beautiful.  And, my gaze is always drawn to Kanchee on my after-work journey home to east Anchorage; in mind-numbing rush hour traffic, I daydream about skiing the Kanchee summit line and fantasize about the opulent powder there.  And, on a blog post about the front range, Elfy, commented about skiing Kanchee.  All this Kanchee karma, I had to go.

Kanchee is so right there, closer than I had imagined.  Skiing from the end of Basher Road, I ascended the Dome and skied to a saddle for a good look at Kanchee and Knoya, the K twins.  What beautiful summit bowls these two have.  I'm going back when I have a full day to devote to it - Kanchee to Knoya would make an exceptional trip.

Rockage potential is always present in the front range, and descending from the true summits of the K twins, especially Knoya, would likely involve some rock encounters, but snow in the gullies looks very good.  The snow in the gully I skied tonight was sweet.  If the weather holds, I'm going to the K twins on Saturday.

March 18, 2012

Coloradan's Colorado Creek

Matt's Magical Mystery Tour came to a close today at Colorado Mine, Alaska.  Matt, presently a Coloradan, formerly an Alaskan, made a ski trip back to his old home with perfect timing!  Sunshine, powder, big lines, backcountry, one storm with 23" fresh at Alyeska.  Today's tour to Colorado Mine was another pristine powder day.
We followed a game trail up Colorado Creek to the lower mine site and set a switch back trail up to the upper mine site on the ridge on beautiful untracked snow that had not seen a ski in quite some time.  Hoar frost crystals sparkled in the sun and seemed to vaporize into cold smoke under our skis. 
Map (click to expand) is courtesy of Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center.

It was cold in the shade, about 10F, but skies were mostly sunny with very little wind.  We saw two natural slides on north-facing slopes.  We couldn't clearly identify the starting zone, but the slides ran a several hundred vertical feet.  The snow in the gullies was exquisite.  There are hundreds of lines all around Turnagain, Twin Peaks, and Summit Lake, but Colorado Creek had no tracks nor sign of any ski traffic. 

March 17, 2012

Talkeetna Touring

Touring in the Talkeetnas in late winter sunshine has offered endless possibilities.  From the Mint Trailhead to the Goldcord/Pinnacle area, touring the Talkeetnas in the Hatcher Pass sunshine has been the skiers' sweet spot over the past couple of days.
We ascended the knife-edge Arkose Ridge just east of Delia Creek, crossed over two basins from the Delia drainage, and thought about running down a concave line.

Topping out on the ridge from the other side, and looking down, we thought we had found untracked creamy couloirs waiting to be skied.  From above the concave horizon, we imagined perfect couloirs packed with untracked powder, and yours truly really wanted just to ski it.  But, apprehension of unseen hazards overcame the urge to descend and prudence prevailed.  I volunteered to take the line we could see to the basin floor and signal from below:  one pole up - a single chute, 2 poles up would mean 2 or more chutes, waving and crossing poles would mean no go.  Arriving at the basin floor and gazing up, I was struck by the shocking reality of huge cliffs just below the concave horizon of our ridgetop vantage.  Frantically waving my poles with straight arms, I wondered if the tiny specks of people, my party on the ridgetop could make out my NO GO sign. 
Jon descended toward the cliffs.  As he taversed toward the cliffs, I again waved my poles in a frenzy, emphatically crossing my arms and back down to my sides, channeling: don't go, don't go.  It was a quite a stress relieve when he turned and cruised down the mellow line spraying powder in the sunshine.
Nathanael Drops In
We knew that the couloir on the opposite side of the ridge, our original objective, had clear routes from the ridge to the valley floor, and we expected it would have much better snow, and we happily learned that the couloir lived up to our expectations. 
Nathanael's Line
Nathanael pioneered the lookers' left line (above) and as I followed his track down the powder filled couloir, the moments seemed long and serene.  Matt and Jon took the lookers' right couloir.
Matt Entering

Jon Found the Slot

Matt and yours truly found ourselves back in the Talkeetnas the following day in the Rock Garden area of The Pinnacle, and gazed at our line in the couloirs of Arkose.
Left-to-Right:  Nathanael's, Matt's, & Jon's Lines

Matt Tracking The Pinnacle South Ridge
Matt and I peeked over the northern slope of Friendship Pass above High Grade, but with the flat light, corniced slope and adjacent natural slab, we weren't feeling it, so we backtracked down the sunny side of Friendship Pass on crunchy melt-freeze sun crust near the pass that gave way to soft powder on the slopes with lower inclination.  We skied back past High Grade and traversed in falling snow to the the Rock Garden beneath The Pinnacle.  As we topped out on a minor saddle along the southern ridge of The Pinnacle, the clouds vanished and we found some nice powder in the shady northwestern aspects. 

March 11, 2012

Peterson Creek

The fantastic late winter snowpack made the trip up Peterson Creek like a cake walk.  The trail is skied-in well with apparently a dozen or so old tracks in the past week, and 8 backcountry powder seekers in the drainage today.  J-Rock, Jesse, Matt and yours truly enjoyed one of those trips where weather, snow and terrain came together in a way that will endure in our memories of great ski days.
Jesse in Powdermania

We skied to the glacial headwaters of Peterson Creek and ascended a couloir too steep to skin.
An avalanche had flowed down a half mile of the upper reaches of Peterson Creek at a relatively low inclination, roughly 15 degrees.  The momentum and force of the slide to flow so far at a low angle was shocking.
Turnagain Arm

Matt Liking It
Jon Landing It

March 10, 2012

Alaskan in Colorado

A journey to sunny Colorado to ski and visit with family was a fabulous time, something to repeat.  Finally skiing in the Colorado Rockies with brothers, nephews and cousins was a real treat, and there are some great ideas for follow up trips. 
We stayed in the Arkansas River valley in a cabin near Leadville, and at a ranch near Salida.  Both places were comfortable and convenient for five days of skiing the lift served areas of Ski Cooper, Copper, and Monarch, and three backcountry day trips around Leadville and Monarch Pass. 
One day at Ski Cooper was perfect for acclimatizing to skiing at 11000 to 12000 feet above sea level.  Leadville and Cooper have a long tradition and association with the 10th Mountain Division, and it has a lot to offer regarding outdoor education, snow safety programs, and volunteer ski patrol training.
Cntrasting the small area, gentle terrain and small town vibe of Ski Cooper, the development at Copper Mountain had an industrialized feel, but the skiing was very good.  Colorado snowfall has been meager this season, and the alpine country was nearly barren, but we found untracked snow and good skiing in the trees of the Union Meadows area, exciting terrain in Spaulding Bowl, and an overall high quality ski experience at Copper.
Backcountry ventures to Monarch Pass and Sangree Hut were nearly perfect introductions to the Colorado backcountry for yours truly, and to alpine touring for my brother.  His AT rookie status was belied by strong fitness - he had no trouble keeping up.  We found some great snow and glade skiing at Monarch Pass.  The trip to Sangree hut was inspiring - sunshine, powder with a well-marked route to a well-managed ski hut.  Alaska could use some huts like the 10th Mountain Division.
Continental Divide