May 3, 2017

Go to Know - Mint Country

Oulie and I skied up into the Mint country May Day 2017. Thinnest snowpack I've observed there in three trips spaced out over many years, the last one in 2011.

Beaver ponds were starting to break up

A lot of open water

We had planned to ski up to the Pennyroyal Glacier via Backdoor Gap and down it to the Bomber, and then back to Hatcher Pass Road via Reed Lakes and Archangel Road. But, concerned about rotten or no snow at Backdoor Gap and around Reed Lakes we decided to backtrack the 7 miles, and save the Bomber Traverse for better conditions. The 14 miles on pretty flat terrain was a slog in alpine touring boots! 

April 21, 2016

Chugach Majestic

Skiing the northwestern Chugach Mountains is a special experience. An easy 2-hour drive from Anchorage, Majestic Heliski is a portal into the northwestern Chugach. The northwestern Chugach includes many large glaciers, but relative to the mountains south of the Chugach divide where flying weather can be limited, the NW Chugach enjoy more flying friendly days. Mount Marcus Baker defines the Chugach divide with the Matanuska, Knik, and other glaciers flowing from the northern flanks of the divide, and with the college glaciers (Harvard, Yale, Radcliff, Smith, Bryn Mawr, etc), 20-Mile, and other glaciers draining the south side of the divide.
Looking South at Chugach Mtns from Majestic Lodge
Many, many smaller unnamed glaciers and mountains also feed the mighty Matanuska River on the north side. This is the Majestic Heliski region yours truly was fortunate to explore. The operation is based at Majestic Lodge situated on a bench perched above the Matanuska River at about 2900-ft elevation, upstream of the Mat Glacier terminus. The lodge is a contemporary log building with a spectacular view of the Chugach Mountains.
Majestic Lodge

Majestic Lodge Changing Room
The lodge has a vibe similar to other heliski lodges I've visited in terms of its accommodations, cuisine, and staffing. As the world's biggest heliski operator, CMH is yours truly's standard for heliski operations.
Majestic Operations Mgr Chris Shelly & Pilot/Guide Njord Rota with Guest (teal coat)

Refueling Location - Hicks Creek Pull-Out on Glenn Highway
I have a small sample, but the Majestic heliski operations I experienced did meet the CMH standard. Though I have a very limited experience with Majestic - a single day with only one group in an A-Star piloted by owner, Njord Rota - based on the communications I monitored, refueling operations I observed, and safety training I received, I believe that Majestic could safely and efficiently handle multiple groups while providing a terrific ski experience.
I was guided by the Operations Manager, Chris Shelly, who has a lot of heliski guide and other relevant experience. His experience was evident in his clear, concise and fun ski guiding. With only 3 seasons in the NW Chugach, Majestic is still in the discovery phase. While all of the lines were new to me, we skied some first lines for the Majestic crew, too. Another guest with multiple Majestic trips (and CMH trips) was very complimentary of the other guides. My first hand experience with some of the other guides in safety training was quite positive. The skiing was excellent for late April. The NW Chugach area served by Majestic Heliski has good terrain with terrific sun-protected lines with well-preserved cold snow.
NW Chugach Scale - Little Dot is a Skier (click to expand)

Cold Smoke-Like Snow in Late April

View of Competition's Terrain from North Side of Knik Gl - CPG KnikAss Area in Background
First experience with Majestic Heliski was very, very positive. I hope to have more!
Part Way Down Last Run - Started at White Ridge Line

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