Girdwood Ski Playground

Mountains are interesting, but ski mountaineering clients are more interesting. They like adventure, fitness and having a good time. When compared to seven summits clients, there's a key difference: they're after the experience, not the singular goal of the summit. 

Scott Wood came to Anchorage for a Ski Mountaineering Course. Scott is from the adventurous crowd in New York City. He started skiing four years ago. He's been to "oh, I don't know, 100 or 130 countries." He asks a lot of questions and is up for anything. We skied the Western Chugach for four days, worked on skills and talked for hours each evening. 

We helicoptered into the high peaks above Girdwood. Helicopters are fun, but elation comes when the heli leaves and you're alone in the silent mountains.  

Prusik practice for self-rescue from a crevasse. Scott is using a waist loop and a cordelette to ascend the rope. In Joe's world, the era of the Texas Kick prusik technique is over. The Texas kick uses a single-purpose foot loop rig. A basic premise of lighter packs is to eliminate unnecessary, single purpose items. Thus, the Texas Kick is gone.

Following our ski trip, Scott was heading to an eight-day mountaineering course with Alpine Ascents. The Denali-prep course on the Kahiltna Glacier will have a different style than our ski mountaineering course. I told him: "The techniques I teach you are right, and the Alpine Ascents techniques are right. They're different, but both are right."

Scott, with a multi-day pack, skiing into West Twentymile on the second morning. 

After a discussion of managing risk, Scott planned his route ahead. He crossed the drainage to avoid rockfall from the sun-baked moraine wall above. 

Scott leading into an icefall on the Pipit Glacier for crevasses navigating practice. He's on a 40-meter rope, fully stretched out, with stopper knots. 

Rosie's Roost above the Eagle Glacier. The smudged sky is from a cracked UV filter on my Lumix GF3. Way better to crack a $20 filter than the lens. 

Scott reading Bonnington's Annapurna South Face. A pertinent book considering Ueli Steck's recent 28 hour solo of the same wall. 

 Skiing down the Pipit Glacier after crossing from the Eagle Glacier. 

Scott was game for more exploring on the last day. From the Pipit Glacier we downclimbed three pitches to the Longspur Glacier. Before descending the gully we discussed the probability of rockfall versus the consequences of rockfall. After scouting the gully on three separate days, and seeing no rockfall, we decided the probability was low enough to downclimb the gully. Once safe and away from the face, we talked about whether it was luck or experience that got us through without incident. Confusing luck with experience is deadly. 

Skiing the Longspur Glacier toward the Twentymile River. The valley is filled with smoke from the Tustumena fire on the Kenai Peninsula. 

Off the Longspur Glacier, we skied down toward Berry Pass at the head of Winner Creek. There's a trail to Berry Pass, but it was a long way off, and covered with avalanche debris. I scouted ahead, then broke the news to Scott of the tough day ahead. His interpretation of me was like Al Pacino, "You want to play rough? Okay. Say hello to my little friend."  

After seven hours of hard skiing we reached the dry Winner Creek Trail. Scott said, "Say hello to my little friend!" and I jogged behind him for two more hours into Girdwood. 

Thanks for a super-fun trip Scott. I have a pile of memories and pages in my notebook filled with ideas you've given me. Good luck on your Alpine Ascents Kahiltna course. I'm stoked to ski with you again next season. Cheers!