Coming off a three week trip to the place that has been my second home for the past three years, my only regret is that I only had a mere few weeks. After going to Alaska for seven years I should have known anything less than a month long trip will feel far to short. With low snowfall and extreme winds Alaska has had one of the worst snowfalls recorded in years. As I watched the weather online and got constant snow and weather observations from friends living in Valdez and the Alaska Avalanche Information Center (A.A.I.C.)I just kept telling myself it is AK and the snow will come. After long time friend Dustin Taylor picked me up in Anchorage and was generous enough to let me borrow the trusty Stanza to drive during my stay, I departed for Valdez. I was in shock with how little snow was in the mountains upon arriving at the Eureka lodge and enjoying a great lunch while talking snowpack with a couple of locals I just met. I made the decision to call Gabe Monroe and relay the fact we should postpone our Nelchina glacier trip until next year due to the low snowpack. Once I got to Rendezvous Ski Guides at mile 45 on the Richardson Highway I felt like I had entered the twilight zone. It looked and felt like I was driving through the Rockies in mid June.
Colorado in mid-june, joking, Alaska mid-March
When I got to Thompson Pass I headed for the Tailgate Alaskavenue to meet up with Sean Wisner and the rescue team for the World Freeride Championship, the reason I was making this trip to Alaska. We had introduction’s of the amazing rescue team that was put together for the venue and then started right into briefing and training. It was amazing that such a strong and knowledgable team was put together, it was compiled of truly world-class mountain people. The day after I arrived in Valdez some weather moved in so for the next two days the rescue squad and myself got dialed in with some rescue scenarios such as packing people in skeds and rescues toboggans.
Rapping the sked off a cliff
Rescue briefing with Sean Wisner
Within a couple of days we had a foot and a half of fresh Chugach powder on top of the mahogany wind board from the previous wind events. During a couple of days of in and out weather and chasing windows of blue sky I lucked out with what I consider the most valuable internship under the legendary Dan Vandermuelen (Dan Van). Over the next week Dan Van, Rhett Foster, Dorian Densmor and myself cut slopes on the venue site and got acquainted with the Bro Bowl area. During this time I was learning more from Dan Van than I can put into words. He truly understands the mountains and his performance in World Freeride Championship proved that studying the mountains and understanding how they work can take you a lot further than just hucking your meat. While Dan punched in a road to the Tonsina glacier during a couple marginal days I rode the bluffs and lowers of Nicks Happy Valley right off of Thompson Pass. I also hung out on the top of Berlin wall during a couple grey bird days waiting for the sky to break and be the first after a storm to ski a line on Berlin I’ve been eyeing for the last couple years. I didn’t get to tag the line but got some great riding down the bluffs and more important got to spend some time on the mountain with Jason Champion guide extrodinare and got to know Dorian a lot better which would prove to be very beneficial after the King of The Hill.
Dan Van run 1
Dan Van run 2
There was a couple more days of marginal weather before it popped blue and it was time for King of The Hill. The venue was in great condition the riders all chose technical and aesthetic lines. I choked on my second run and tumbled 75 feet over rocks and knocked myself stupid. If it wasnt for my Smith Helmet and Sigg water bottle in my pack I would have been one hurt guy. Lucky for me a few stitches in the elbow (thanks adventure medical), little swelling, and being knocked goofy was all the injuries I sustained. Dan Van took the top nod in mens skiing and Will Brommelsiek in mens snowboarding, Holly Enderle took home the honors of the queen of the hill. As I said before Dan proved during the comp that mountain smarts is the most important thing in the Chugach range and other big mountains. Dans lines were more exposed and technical than any others and he skied them faster than anyone else road theirs. He scored the highest point totals of any ski or snowboard competitor. Dan Van truly is the MAN.
After King of the Hill a storm rolled in for another day and then went blue. Rhett, Dorian, Brandon Gust, and my self decided when it went blue we were making a push for the Heiden Glacier to ski the Books. We called every heli operator and anyone we could think of with a sled that would be available to take us out to the Heiden Glacier and we wound up empty-handed. We decided we had to walk in, which turned into an eight hour slog with 50-60 pound packs. We were the first people into the Heiden glacier after the fresh snow and we rode some awesome lines. I watched Dorian rip page one better than anyone I’ve ever seen and we knocked off six ramps while we were in there. After a long day of shredding we decided to start our departure back to the car. We got a lot of respect for walking into the Books and had a great time with new friends. That was my first and probably last time I will walk into the Heiden Glacier.
Camp on the Heiden
Rhett after skiing the Pages of the Books
East facing ramps in the Heiden
The day after our epic adventure we went back to Berlin wall in hopes of riding the ever so elusive line I’ve been eyeing. Upon arriving at the top of Nick’s valley I was crushed to see some one had skied the line I have wanted so bad and unfortunately butchered it. So Dorian and myself decided to rip a couple untouched lines off Berlin wall. Mine was a super dirty line with wind board half way down that made me chatter out after a little air. Dorian chose an aesthetic line which sluffed and barreled down at the bottom of the run just in time to for his last turn around the cliff band. We decided to go for a couple of west, southwest lines off of Giovanni ridge that were fun. Dorian had warned me about the snow quality after he skied his line, but we still ripped them and the footy should look pretty good.
Dirtiness on Giovanni ridge
Our last day in the mountain together with my new friends we opted for some short steep lines off the little Matterhorn into gully two. The night before I had met some awesome people from Colorado one named Colin Murphy. He and his friends were kind enough to give us some sled bumps up to little Matterhorn as long as we showed them around a bit. It worked great for both of us as they skied some of the sickest lines they got to ride in AK and we filmed three great lines a piece between Dorian and myself. They were short, but very fun and aesthetic lines.
For not having a sled, Heli time, showing up on the worst snow year and never riding together we made it work. Mother nature was great delivering six feet of snow and we hammered it every blue day. When it came time to leave I was throughly bummed as three weeks just isn’t long enough for the best mountain range in the world. Riding with Dorian, Rhett, and Brandon pushed me my last couple days. I was feeling down about my comp run and old after two days of solid hiking with a 50 pound packs, but their youth and stoke of the area made it so I was motivated every blue day we had. I left with pride restored after my big crash in KOTH, great new friends and another year in the Chugach that will not be forgotten.
The Chugach engulfs you from the first time you see the mountains, you know this is the place your mind takes you in your dreams of powder slash turns and cliff drops. It will always be my second home.
Dropping into the Heiden
Brandon Gust dropping in 3...2...1
Dorian ripping again