Most skiers search for amazing snow. Others seek unique mountain features to ski. It's a quest for the line. Like the great Italian alpinist Emilio Comici said, "I wish some day to make a route, and from the summit let fall a drop of water, and this is where my route will have gone.” Paraphrasing Comici, the American ski alpinist Lou Dawson said, "As a single ball of snow would roll, that is the line I would ski."
Chutes that fall through rocky mountain faces are obvious lines.
When teaching avalanche classes at Hatcher Pass I ogle over a massive cleft on a north-facing wall. You could call it is the Comici Line of Gold Cord. As Jeff Conaway and I skied this chute, we noticed the Pinnacle had a thin smear of snow covering one its faces. We headed across the valley for a crack at skiing the Pinnacle.
We had no climbing gear. That was our excuse for stopping 40 feet from the Pinnacle's summit. Basically, we chickened out from exposure. But the chute skiing back into valley was great fun.
The next day I came back with Paddy Sullivan. We brought a full arsenal of climbing gear, but only made it another five feet closer to the summit. Paddy and I settled for skiing a steep chute into the Archangel Valley. For future attempts on the Pinnacle I will bring a climbing rack complete with a rocket-propelled grappling hook, a Dana Maddog Drummod and a Ryan Hokanson.
Roger Strong test-driving Black Diamond Carbon Megawatt skis in the Ram Valley. A year earlier Roger had no ligaments in either knee. After exiting the chute, he whooped down the entire 1,000-foot apron, his joyful yells echoing back up the rock-walled chute to me. Roger said it was the best day of his season. If you know Roger, that's quite a complement.
Cortney Kitchen peering into The Bear's Crack, an eight-foot-wide chute dropping from the summit of Bear Point down to Chugiak. Finding recruits for this excursion was tricky. Luckily Cortney is always keen. We found prickery bushwacking to the base. Then unskiable avalanche chunder. Then a black bear climbing the chute. And then some breakable crust. This chute was all about the feature. Everyone else missed out.
A few years ago Dave Bass and I skied one of the X-Couloirs on Peeking. To exit Peters Creek, we booted and climbed a monster chute on the north side of Peeking. This monster appeared to be the line on Peeking. Cathy, Cortney and I went back for The Peking King. This was my run of the year. The middle 1,000 feet of this line had impeccable 50-degree duff. A rare combination of the perfect feature and the perfect snow.
Cortney and Cathy looking down to the 20-foot-wide sluicebox at the base of The Peking King. The day was 12 hours of climbing and skiing.
One evening Cathy, Dave Bass and I went skiing along Turnagain Arm. We found this gully that dropped 3,300 vertical feet straight to the highway. The Seward Highway is lined with them. Dave said, "Last year I was way into skiing Turnagain Arm after work. This year I was waaaaaay, waaaaaay into it." The week after a hospital visit he sessioned it five times.
Winslow Passey rapping into a chute on East Twin. We skied three chutes on East Twin that day. Although we had a great day playing in the hills, these chutes weren't the objective. We were after the most obvious pinner in the Anchorage area, the West Twin Pencil Thin, the line that every climber and skier returning from Talkeetna peers up at through their car window and says "Look at those walls. I wonder if those chutes get climbed."
I came back the next week for West Twin Pencil Thin, armed with Canucks Dani Loewenstein and Eric Ostopkevich. After climbing a bunch of Alaska Range routes and skiing the West Twin Pencil Thin, they reckoned their Alaska trip was like hitting Costco when all the samples were out. They visited and pigged out.
Dave Bass topping out on 1,850 vertical feet of tight chute in Falls Creek on July 1. I've learned that if people say, "That's too skinny to ski," then I know it's perfect. Well, maybe this one was too skinny for me: I side-slipped this 45-degree, 20-inch-wide section with tips and tails dangling over the moat. Dave straight-lined it, making turns farther down. Our goal was four hours home to home. We clocked in at 4:20.
Maddog continues the quest for the feature of all features. The Dawson Line of Southcentral Alaska.