Holy Grail of Guiding

Some guides consider Everest as the holy grail of guiding. But as the guiding years build, and they get a family and home, their grail usually shifts. It moves toward making a living and coming home each night. I finally achieved that goal.

Don't get me wrong, I love big Alaska trips more than anyone, but as you may understand, working in the best ski mountains on earth, and coming home each night, is a desirable goal. 

A typical day involved meeting guests in Girdwood at 8am. We'd drive down to Turnagain, or on to Summit, and pick a route. We'd explore the new terrain, often linking known terrain by a less known connection. When the guests were smiling in a delirious happy exhaustion, we'd head back to Girdwood, and make plans for the next day. 

Here are a few of those days. 

Pete skinning into Goldpan. In December, Pete Moebenburg called me from Wisconsin. "Joe, I want to go backcountry skiing. I've been alpine skiing for 30 years. We'll carry our skis up and ski down."

"Uh, sounds good Pete, but we ski up using alpine touring gear before skiing down."

"I don't have alpine touring gear, so I'll bring snowshoes."

"Uh, we use alpine touring gear."

"What's alpine touring gear?"

"It's like alpine ski gear, but it's light and your heels release for climbing. For skiing down, you lock your heels down, like resort skiing."

"Oh yeah? What should I get?" I sent Pete my gear list. He got everything. And we had two amazing days in the backcountry.

Pete having a backcountry skiing epiphany. Feeling for the first time that addictive combination of exercise endorphins and anticipation of what's ahead. 

And how 1,500 vertical feet of untracked in the backcountry is worth 20 runs at the resort. 

Another convert to earn-your-turns was Janie Lorber. Here she's ripping 1,000 vertical feet of non-stop vertical at Summit Lake. If I'd taken her to the Bachelor Auction, she'd have never left Alaska.  

Janie's longtime friend Brint Markle at Summit Lake. 

Janie, Brint and Maria Gabriel looking suspiciously happy on the hike back to the car. 

Kiwis Adrion and Jimmy booting the last steps to the summit of Pastoral. Adrion works maintenance on Stephen Speilberg's luxury yacht. 


Ripping Pastoral, the highest summit in the northeast quadrant of Turnagain at 4,764 feet. 

Anchorage pilot Nick Beesley needed a day in the backcountry with an avalanche instructor to complete his online avalanche course with AlpenPro. We went to Wilson Creek at Summit Lake. 

We made long powder runs after deeming the powder sufficiently fluffy. 

Rob Brennan, Ben Dann and Mitch Dann came up from Jackson for an Anchorage Ski Week. Mitch and son Ben have been backcountry skiing for years. On his first skin ascent of his life, Rob jack-rabbited up the hill. Once he found his pace, he became a backcountry addict. 

Rob feeding his new addiction. 

Mitch skiing in Wilson Creek, the zone of my prize guiding linkup for spring 2013. The perfect guiding tour took seven days of research to sort out. 

Bart Rose and Christina Vela were going straight to Valdez. I talked them out of it, telling them Anchorage is the earn-your-turns Mecca. We toured up Silvertip Creek. Christina said she wanted a summit. Oh yeah? Let's see what we can do. 

We climbed and skied Silvertip. At 5,020 feet, Silvertip is the highest summit in the southeast quadrant of Turnagain. Along the way I was ogling the sunlit pass in the cloud just above Christina.  

A couple days later I headed up to that pass with brother and sister Dan and Becky Richards. In Portland, Becky is cyclocross friends with my sister-in-law Karen Goritski. 

The pass was fluffy and sunlit. 

Dad Steve and daughter Erin Bros near the summit of Hale Bop at Summit Lake during a traverse to Tenderfoot. During an Anchorage Ski Week with the Bros, we explored all over the Anchorage mountains.

Steve dropping into Butcher Creek, to Stella Artois stashed in the snowbank at the trailhead

Mike Cox heading into a deserted, late-season Tincan. 

Thanks for a great season everyone! With the combination of skiing the Southcentral mountains, enthusiastic conversation and going home every night, you've allowed me to achieve the holy grail of guiding. I hope to ski with you again!