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Monday
Jul252016

2016 Denali Ski Base Camps

Among back-to-back trips last spring I had four Denali Ski Base Camps. Each trip confirmed my Denali addiction. It's not the kind of addiction that involves manhauling for days on snowshoes. Rather it's the kind of Denali addiction that involves skiing stable powder in big mountains with passionate people from around the world. 

The first trip started with big weather. That's what can happen in big mountains. Here's Austin Ranz and Philipp Becker storm skiing in the Ruth Amphitheater. They are friends of Brint Markle (not in photo) who I skied with in 2013

 

After the rager storm, it cleared and the Alaska Range emerged in typical glory.  

 

Brint testing a prototype of an Avatech snow measurement tool. Brint is the CEO of Avatech, a company that has tackled long-standing problems in snow measurement and information sharing. The company is going huge this year with Mountain Hub.   

 

Mike Schmid and Bryan Herold, back in the Alaska Range. This was our third trip together including the Western Chugach and a Denali Ski Base Camp in 2015

 

Mike modeling and testing snow quality for me. He does a good job. 

 

Booting two thousand feet of powder-filled coulie.

 

Mike below a run we called Flat Mike. At the summit, we took photos of Flat Stanley (a paper cartoon character) for his son. While in the chute, Mike took the skier's right gully, below the massive cornice. Watching from below, Bryan and I worried we'd be getting some flat Mike photos if the 40-foot cornice snapped off and steam-rolled Mike. 

 

Mike doubling down on burgers.

 

First step into the Alaska Range with four Scots: Al Conroy, Jonny Lonie, Becca Rankine and Tom Collins. 

 

First tour of the trip with the Scots.

 

Safe zone to safe zone in pow-filled coulies.  

 

Mid-afternoon noodle break before another run. 

 

Next year I want to ski out there, in those shady slopes and chutes. Anyone keen to go exploring with me? 

 

Becca below an ice cliff. Leading into this line was the epitome of guiding for me: onsight in big complex terrain. A few days earlier, Canadian IFMGA Mountain Guide Cece Mortenson told me how lack of spotters had been a factor in some recent avalanche accidents in Canada, including Robson Moser. Following Cece's reminder to always have a spotter, I used a talkabout radio to leap frog a spotter down above me. At one point I made steep powder turns above this ice cliff, with Jonny spotting, until I found a sneak to skier's right, into this pow-filled glacier-bowl. My only mistake was not getting some ice for our selection of Scotch. 


Becca modeling for my camera and testing snow quality into an unknown glacial basin. This valley exited into rolling moraine and a hanging terrace back to camp. 

 

We camped near Jim and Sarah Sogi. They live in Hawaii and ski around the world, wherever the snow is good, which means I often see them in Alaska. Each evening we socialized with Jim and Sarah at their nearby luxury camp. 

 

Booting another coulie to ski it's fluffy surface. I find photos of climbing chutes more captivating than photos of skiing chutes. Perhaps it's because the untracked snow gives that feeling of wanting to know what's ahead. Anticipation is much of the allure of backcountry skiing. 

 

A few hours after leaving our neighborhood, Oliver Evans, Amy Downing and Ben Crawford (out of photo) summit an Alaska Range peak. Last year Oliver and I skied steep north facing powder in the Western Chugach. This year we planned to ski again, somewhere. As the date approached, conditions looked best in the Alaska Range. 

 

Base camp. Jim Sogi loaned me this vestibule for my Hilleberg Atlas. 

 

Powder and corn in early May.  

 

Beating the afternoon heat. 

 

The Broken Tooth.

 

Clouds cloaked our mountains on the third day, so we skied near the rocks for visibility. This was a striking chute that I'd ogled over last spring. 

 

Amy ready to ski.  

 

After two runs among the rocks, we headed back to the tent and listened to an entire season of Serial, about an Army deserter in Afghanistan. At 6pm, Pilot Paul Roderick picked us up to return to Talkeetna. 

 

We stopped at the Ruth Gorge base camp to pick up some French climbers. Back in Talkeetna, we realized the small town was packed with weather-delayed climbers waiting to fly in. Turns out, our flight was the first and only flight all day. Paul is good to us like that. 

Thanks for the fun trips everyone!