December 2, 2015

Shunta at Summit Lake

Shunta's introduction to Alaska skiing has been a happy reminder of our wealth of extraordinary places to ski. Hailing from Hokkaido, Japan, a place known for its excellent snow and great skiing, it might be understandable if Alaska did not leave him awestruck, but Shunta's sincere and exclamatory appreciation of Alaska's mountains has been obvious and contagious. Sharing that same feeling of awe has been a reward in itself.
All Smiles above Summit Lake
We made it up Tenderfoot Ridge above Summit Lake to find a few rocks, some frozen ice chunkies, and smokey powder. We found an icy hard base with rain runnels and insufficient snowpack to fill in and smooth out the tussocks for a few hundred feet vertical. Upper hemlock groves and alpine zones were really sweet.
Above Summit Lake
Freeing the Heel and Freeing the Mind

November 23, 2015

Storm Skiing

Seattle Creek presently has some sweet snow and is getting more. It also has some variable 'upside down' snow with dense wind pack on blower powder, some thin areas not quite covering the tundra, and windboard. Conditions are best described as: variable, but if a skier is lucky or savvy enough to find the sweet snow, there is incredibly good skiing.

Kruser and yours truly endured one line with less than perfect snow, but we also found perfection in a storm at Seattle Creek.


November 11, 2015

Backdoor Trail Open for 2015 / 2016

Dylan and yours truly officially opened Backdoor Trail for 2015 / 2016! Trail is skied-in and could last until April or May. First time little ski buddy was happy on skis, and was good for one ascent.

There are surface lifts, chair lifts, and Papa lifts. Papa held up for 5 laps. Dylan was ready for more but Papa was overheated.
Down the hill!
First Day Skiing!
Videographer: Yaya

November 9, 2015

Seattle Creek

Seattle Ridge above Turnagain Pass can be a skier's paradise early season before the sleds invade. Snow machines are always prohibited from the east side of the highway, but snow machines are allowed on the west side of the highway after sufficient snowpack develops. After the sleds are allowed, the west side of the Seward Highway can be noisy, smelly, and not super friendly to self-propelled skiers, but usually before the area opens to snow machining there is a good window with good skiing.
There were a few rocks, but trading a little p-tex for a lot of powder was a good deal.
Why is Jonny Rocketship Smiling?
He felt the sunshine and knew the snow would be terrific on the descent.

After climbing up from the highway trailhead, we spent all day lapping the Main Bowl above Seattle Creek on the backside from the road. We scraped a rock or two on the backside, but mostly found a good snowpack for skiing with excellent quality. On the frontside run back to the trailhead where the snowpack is typically thinner, I did find a rock garden with only about 6" snow coverage. Being watchful of the terrain and finding the swales with the deeper snow make the run back to the car more enjoyable.

November 7, 2015

Tin Can Infantry

Tincan Mountain, a skiers' place. Good snow in November is a good bet at Tincan, the most popular backcountry ski touring area in southcentral Alaska. Exceptional snow quality, sunny skies, and mostly calm wind put smiles on every Tincan skier's face on Nov. 7, 2015.
Old School Route
With so many people embarking from the 'normal' Tincan trailhead, yours truly opted for the slightly longer, somewhat older route. There was a time when the 'old school' route was the normal way up Tincan, but that was 30 years ago. 
Tincan Infantry
The Tincan infantry marched up the mountain in a great skin track. Later in the day, the boot packing crowd showed up and just pulverized the skin track.
Tincan Tracks
The Tincan infantry attacked the 'common' bowl and tracked it out. If you don't want to ski tracks, skin a little further and find solitude and the untracked experience.  


Old School Trail Home
One Last Look
This was one of the eastern-most lines, perhaps the eastern-most line on Tincan south face that I have ever skied. After solo skiing a few short laps in the south-facing bowl, I skinned and booted up the rocky ridge on looker's right in the photo above, and made the summit ridge near the entrance to north facing Todd's Bowl. Skiing the early season Tincan snowpack was dreamlike; the top layers were cold and smoky with a soft base under the smoke.

November 2, 2015

Summit Glacier Sojourn

Ski touring up the Crow Pass Trail to the top of Summit Glacier is an arduous trek, but the autumn powder on the glacier is a just reward.

Jewel Mountain - South Face
The north face of Jewel is not quite skiable yet. The Jewel permanent snowfield has shrunk, but the northerly aspect and prevailing winds may yield a worthy run this season before the avalanche hazard makes it off limits.
Jewel North Face
Yours truly stayed on the safer Summit side of the Jewel-Summit massif. Trudging up Summit and viewing its gaping crevasses, I wondered whether it may be safer on Jewel, after all.

Summit Glacier Crevasses - Patrick's Line
Summit Glacier Schrund
Summit was safe enough. A couple of untracked lines didn't quite erase the specter of a crevasse fall, but fresh powder kept the fear in check.
Summit Line
The terminal moraine has an excellent base. With a few 'shark teeth' protruding, the moraine had some wet snow set up really well covering most of the sharp cobbles and several inches of powder have fallen on top of the base. 
Jewel-Summit Terminal Moraine

September 7, 2015

Tour de los Volcánes de Chile, Part 1

Chile Backcountry created an extraordinary experience nearly perfectly suited to our objectives. We skied on Volcanes Casablanca, Mocho, Villarrica, Lonquimay, and Lliama. Kruser and yours truly made our way to Puerto Varas by bus from Chillan.

 Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesus

After many, many bus stops, we finally arrived in the picturesque resort town of Puerto Varas on Lago Llanquihue.  Our multi-skilled guide, Vicho, met us at the bus terminal and took us to our lodging in Puerto Varas to wait out a storm in the mountains.

Skiing the mountains of the Chilean Lake District and Araucania was our objective. We were able to ski the areas of Antillanca, Huilo Huilo, Pucon, Corralco, Arenales, and Las Araucarias. Antillanca was wet, and we didn't see much, but it was a good start to a fantastic trip.
Antillanca Base
Vicho Working, Yours Truly Not Working
Wet in Patagonia
Several wet laps in a whiteout were enough, and after securing lodging, we moved on the Neltume, where we found the magical Reserva Biologica Huilo Huilo.  After overnighting at Bosque Encantado, we made our way up the mountain, and caught a snowcat ride a little ways up Volcan Mocho. We skinned on to the summit and enjoyed adventure skiing back to the Bosque Nevado base.
Bosque Nevado Base

Hot Ascent

Clouds Closing in on Mocho Summit
Next stop: Pucon!
Excellent Spring Skiing on Volcan Mocho Choshuenco

Tour de los Volcanes de Chile, Part 2

Pucon, Chile is a resort city built on the shores of Lago Villarrica at the base of Volcan Villarrica. After skiing Volcan Mocho Choshuenco, we drove on to Pucon and settled in at the Aldea Naukana, a place where transformations occur, they say.
Ski Pucon Base
Volcan Villarrica activity in early 2015 (still venting) prevented lift maintenance, and the ski area consequently failed to open this season. Maintenance of the very rough road was not apparent either, but we made it to the lift base. We skinned from the base up toward the summit, and turned around where the snow became extremely hard and icy. Just above our turnaround, a trio of German skier/climbers dropped their skis and donned boot crampons for the final 1000 ft vertical to the summit.
Perfect Spring Skiing above Lago Villarrica y Pucon
Another sunny day, another Chilean volcano! After a good night's rest, we made for Malalcahuello at the base of Volcan Lonquimay.
Volcan Villarrica with Our Tracks from Aldea Naukana

Volcan Lonquimay is in Araucania Region, a part of Chile since the 1880's after the Chile military occupied the area and quelled resistance by the indigenous Mapulche.
Lonquimay Summit from the Corralco High T-Bar
Some Malpuche still press claims on the land around Lonquimay. Corralco Ski Area was built on the southern flank of Lonquimay in Chile's protected area of Reserva Nacional Malalcahuello-Nalcas where the Chilean army was training.
Vicho, the Esquiador Extraordinaria
Vicente 'Vicho' Fernandez is a partner in Chile Backcountry who tailor-made our volcano ski trip. We stayed flexible, discussed options and preferences along the way, and Vicho made the perfect arrangements to suit us. We skied on six volcanos in seven days, stayed at accommodations that fit our preferences really well, and enjoyed very good food and drink. Vicho lives in Puerto Varas and really knows the area, and he reads guests and situations really well. He did an excellent job. I'm already scheming next season's trip with Vicho! 

Tour de los volcanes de Chile, Part 3 coming soon!

August 29, 2015

Nevados de Chillan, Chile

South of the equator in late August, Volcan Chillan snows are still falling, and Andean winds are still blowing.

Refugio Garganta del Diablo, Devil's Throat Refuge
Ski touring in an Andean wind storm, coming upon Refugio Garganta del Diablo was an unexpected and welcome sight after getting blasted with icy pellets driven by staggering gusts. Touring around Nevados de Chillan for the first time was a lesson in complex volcan topography, quite enjoyable, but also unnerving.  To an Alaskan skier experienced with ridge-top cornices, happening upon cornices mid-mountain was a reminder to follow the sage Canadian advice: "if you can't see it, don't ski it." Along with unexpected mid-mountain cornices, I happened upon unexpected bowls full of powder! As you might guess with all this unexpected stuff, keeping one's bearings was difficult. Lost in the Andes, what could go wrong?
Refugio Garganta del Diablo

Refugio Garganta del Diablo Loft

Except for a rat, I was alone at the refugio listening to the windstorm bang the tin roof in an uneven, unrelenting cadence. I left the shelter feeling very thankful for having a break from the wind, and backtracked about an hour to find what was left of my uptrack. Established around 1937, Refugio Garganta del Diablo is maintained on Volcan Nevados de Chillan by Grupo de Refugio del Amigos.
Nevados de Chillan has substantial housing around the end of the road, Termas de Chillan and even more at Las Trancas, 15 minutes (in good weather) down the road. Probably all of the accommodations are slightly more comfortable than the Devil's Throat Refugio.
Gran Hotel Termas de Chillan
Hotel Alta
Delightful Austral Parrots (or Slender-Billed Parrots) flock around Nevados de Chillan eating seeds that blow from the trees.  Hundreds of these beautiful birds were chirping, flying about, and enchanting los esquiadores de Alaska.

Enjoying Fresh Austral Snow in August
Nevados de Chillan skiing was very good! We enjoyed fresh snow 4 of 5 days, but also a lot of wind. The wind prevented opening the upper most lifts 4 out of 5 days. Ski touring around and above the upper lifts during wind storms helped me appreciate the reason for closing the lifts, but leeward bowls amazingly retained great snow, much of which was wind deposited, and some of which was unstable.
Nevados de Chillan Sidecoutnry
We observed slide debris on approximately 35-degree slopes, but never saw or felt anything move.

Traversing back in bounds
Chillan was a fun trip - hope to return!