Winter 2016/17 Ski Highlights

Again this winter, I studied and confirmed, that I'd rather ski in Southcentral Alaska than any place in the world.

Overall, the winter was cold and dry. Anchorage was snowy, with six months of nordic skiing in town. The mountains had powder all season, right down to sea level, but it was shallow. This created more persistent weak layers and open crevasses. Different than the previous three winters that were warm and wet, with rain in Anchorage and at sea level, but a colossal snowpack in the alpine.

During the midwinter I did some guiding but mostly taught classes for the Alaska Avalanche School. In the spring, I focused on ski guiding, but was lucky enough to sneak in my best personal ski season in years. Below are some of the winter highlights. 

John Fitzgerald, Don Sharaf and Erica Engle on the Jackson Hole tram during a four-day American Avalanche Association professional training course. Next year US avalanche education is splitting into professional and recreational tracks. This course was for the instructors who will be teaching the pro-level courses to guides, ski patrolers and other avalanche professionals. 

John Fitzgerald, Don Sharaf and Erica Engle on the Jackson Hole tram during a four-day American Avalanche Association professional training course. Next year US avalanche education is splitting into professional and recreational tracks. This course was for the instructors who will be teaching the pro-level courses to guides, ski patrolers and other avalanche professionals. 

Jeff Conaway, scoops the goods from CPG at Notch Mountain near Girdwood in January. Deeeeeep!

Jeff Conaway, scoops the goods from CPG at Notch Mountain near Girdwood in January. Deeeeeep!

Oh, right, Canada is pretty nice also.  Here's Kent Marshall giving his trademark AAAOOOO! above Icefall Lodge in the Canadian Rockies. Icefall is known for steep terrain and a thinner Rockies snowpack. We nailed mid-winter conditions with sun, stable powder and a fun group that also included Robert Ray and Phil Steele from Helena, Montana. Kent, a contractor from Laramie, Wyoming, organized this amazing trip and invited me. Kent and I have also toured together in the Western Chugach and Alaska Range. Thanks for another great trip Kent! 

Oh, right, Canada is pretty nice also. 

Here's Kent Marshall giving his trademark AAAOOOO! above Icefall Lodge in the Canadian Rockies. Icefall is known for steep terrain and a thinner Rockies snowpack. We nailed mid-winter conditions with sun, stable powder and a fun group that also included Robert Ray and Phil Steele from Helena, Montana. Kent, a contractor from Laramie, Wyoming, organized this amazing trip and invited me. Kent and I have also toured together in the Western Chugach and Alaska Range. Thanks for another great trip Kent! 

An inch of snow hides a meadow of massive surface hoar in the Tincan Meadows. This was during 10 days of avalanche training with the 212th Pararescue Squadron in Anchorage. 

An inch of snow hides a meadow of massive surface hoar in the Tincan Meadows. This was during 10 days of avalanche training with the 212th Pararescue Squadron in Anchorage. 

Sarah nails her first v-thread on a three-day, mid-winter ski mountaineering course deep in the Alaska wilderness, but just a few miles from Anchorage. Lesley Seale, Sarah Glaser, Amanda Goss and Sarah Bobbe weren't fazed by zero-degree temperatures and the wind storm of the season. Thanks for a great trip!

Sarah nails her first v-thread on a three-day, mid-winter ski mountaineering course deep in the Alaska wilderness, but just a few miles from Anchorage. Lesley Seale, Sarah Glaser, Amanda Goss and Sarah Bobbe weren't fazed by zero-degree temperatures and the wind storm of the season. Thanks for a great trip!

Aaron Prussian skiing Mount Verstovia above Sitka in Southeast Alaska. Beyond is the dormant volcano of Mount Edgecumbe. Aaron married KK, who I met during an attempt at college in Bozeman, Montana. KK and I have had many adventures together in Alaska, Colorado and Montana. Teaching an avalanche class in Sitka was a good excuse for Cathy and I to visit Aaron and KK and ski in these beautiful mountains. 

Aaron Prussian skiing Mount Verstovia above Sitka in Southeast Alaska. Beyond is the dormant volcano of Mount Edgecumbe. Aaron married KK, who I met during an attempt at college in Bozeman, Montana. KK and I have had many adventures together in Alaska, Colorado and Montana. Teaching an avalanche class in Sitka was a good excuse for Cathy and I to visit Aaron and KK and ski in these beautiful mountains. 

Dana Maddog Drummond on Hillside Pillars at Hatcher Pass. From the road, this route looks like a shrub-filled gully. Upon closer inspection it has several steep variations. 

Dana Maddog Drummond on Hillside Pillars at Hatcher Pass. From the road, this route looks like a shrub-filled gully. Upon closer inspection it has several steep variations. 

Karl Birkeland, Erika Birkland, Henry Munter et moi in the Kenai Mountains. Henry wanted to test drive heli-touring for Chugach Powder Guides. After a quick shuttle from Girdwood in the cheater machine, we skied bowl after bowl of creamy pow above Sixmile Creek. We then zipped back to Girdwood. The conclusion was: we had world-class fun, the terrain is made for touring, but it would take a stable snowpack to sell this heli-touring route.  Anyone game to join me for heli-touring next season? Let's do it!

Karl Birkeland, Erika Birkland, Henry Munter et moi in the Kenai Mountains. Henry wanted to test drive heli-touring for Chugach Powder Guides. After a quick shuttle from Girdwood in the cheater machine, we skied bowl after bowl of creamy pow above Sixmile Creek. We then zipped back to Girdwood. The conclusion was: we had world-class fun, the terrain is made for touring, but it would take a stable snowpack to sell this heli-touring route. 

Anyone game to join me for heli-touring next season? Let's do it!

Karl Birkeland ripping above Portage. In 1994, I did an internship with Karl at the Southwest Montana Avalanche Center. He patiently spent day after day with me in the field. He introduced me to snow and helped me with a project on the effect of trees on snowpack. Later he taught me about near-surface facets. Perhaps what I learned most from Karl was how to be a mentor. Even as a naive 20-something, I recognized his infinite time for my questions and his ability to explain difficult concepts. Then, I didn't see Karl for 15 years until he, and his daughter Erika, stayed with us this April. Then I learned another aspect of Karl—he's an incredibly kind guy and super fun to hang with as friends. 

Karl Birkeland ripping above Portage. In 1994, I did an internship with Karl at the Southwest Montana Avalanche Center. He patiently spent day after day with me in the field. He introduced me to snow and helped me with a project on the effect of trees on snowpack. Later he taught me about near-surface facets. Perhaps what I learned most from Karl was how to be a mentor. Even as a naive 20-something, I recognized his infinite time for my questions and his ability to explain difficult concepts. Then, I didn't see Karl for 15 years until he, and his daughter Erika, stayed with us this April. Then I learned another aspect of Karl—he's an incredibly kind guy and super fun to hang with as friends. 

Cathy and Erika Birkeland booting to another glacier and powder-coated summit near Portage. Erika is a young ripper, who's tuned her skills at Bridger Bowl. This trip was her introduction to ski mountaineering—an instant addiction. On this day we were eating Kathy Still and The Viking's sloppy seconds. For après ski, we went to the Midnight Sun, and had beers with the legends who had schralped our pow. After the second beer, we forgave Kathy and The Viking for their tracks. 

Cathy and Erika Birkeland booting to another glacier and powder-coated summit near Portage. Erika is a young ripper, who's tuned her skills at Bridger Bowl. This trip was her introduction to ski mountaineering—an instant addiction. On this day we were eating Kathy Still and The Viking's sloppy seconds. For après ski, we went to the Midnight Sun, and had beers with the legends who had schralped our pow. After the second beer, we forgave Kathy and The Viking for their tracks. 

Brenda Hollon demonstrating how short people cut extended columns. It's these tricks that I greedily absorb during ski guide training courses. Before heading out each day, Brenda and I spent hours trip planning with Google Earth, Gaia and old school analog tour plans. Brenda guided for many years, took time off to have kids, and is getting back into guiding. Thanks for a great week Brenda! 

Brenda Hollon demonstrating how short people cut extended columns. It's these tricks that I greedily absorb during ski guide training courses. Before heading out each day, Brenda and I spent hours trip planning with Google Earth, Gaia and old school analog tour plans. Brenda guided for many years, took time off to have kids, and is getting back into guiding. Thanks for a great week Brenda! 

Cathy above the final 3,000 descent to Turnagain Arm on a linkup of Tincan, Eddies, Sharksfin and Worlverine Butte. This 9,000-vertical foot date with my wife was refreshing, like I'd been riding the La-Z-boy all day. As the years progress, and I become more work obsessed, I find the physical effort of skiing easy in comparison to the mental effort I put into guiding. 

Cathy above the final 3,000 descent to Turnagain Arm on a linkup of Tincan, Eddies, Sharksfin and Worlverine Butte. This 9,000-vertical foot date with my wife was refreshing, like I'd been riding the La-Z-boy all day. As the years progress, and I become more work obsessed, I find the physical effort of skiing easy in comparison to the mental effort I put into guiding. 

The next day Cathy and I toured above Whittier with our neighbors Cortney and Tobey Carman and Ben Gross. 

The next day Cathy and I toured above Whittier with our neighbors Cortney and Tobey Carman and Ben Gross. 

Payoff for patience. Lisa McCormick from Kodiak gets first turns off Eddies after a week of snain and high avalanche danger. During this week I learned that guiding in high danger is like navigting fog: everything looks different. Like I was seeing common places for the first time. Thanks Lisa and Greg!

Payoff for patience. Lisa McCormick from Kodiak gets first turns off Eddies after a week of snain and high avalanche danger. During this week I learned that guiding in high danger is like navigting fog: everything looks different. Like I was seeing common places for the first time. Thanks Lisa and Greg!

New York metal worker Bryan Herold came up for his third year in a row. Just before our trip, Bryan busted his arm while heli skiing in Valdez. Bryan was still ready to ride, so we explored Southcentral Alaska for a week. Since one-arm splitboard transitions are tricky, I got to do the transitions for Bryan. Now I'm jonsing for a splitboard with Phantom bindings. Thanks Bryan!

New York metal worker Bryan Herold came up for his third year in a row. Just before our trip, Bryan busted his arm while heli skiing in Valdez. Bryan was still ready to ride, so we explored Southcentral Alaska for a week. Since one-arm splitboard transitions are tricky, I got to do the transitions for Bryan. Now I'm jonsing for a splitboard with Phantom bindings. Thanks Bryan!

Anchorage skier Pete Smith quietly gets the proud line at Pastoral. The day before we saw him get the proud line up Hiland Road. He probably did the same on countless days this season. And for decades before that. He's not doing it for the facecramp. Nor for the instatweek. He's doing it because he loves skiing.  My buddy John Sykes recently told me about his study at Montana State on skiers in avalanche terrain. He found the most active skiers are in their 50's and 60's. The ones out there every day all winter. The ones you don't hear about. You only see their lonely tracks down the proud lines. 

Anchorage skier Pete Smith quietly gets the proud line at Pastoral. The day before we saw him get the proud line up Hiland Road. He probably did the same on countless days this season. And for decades before that. He's not doing it for the facecramp. Nor for the instatweek. He's doing it because he loves skiing. 

My buddy John Sykes recently told me about his study at Montana State on skiers in avalanche terrain. He found the most active skiers are in their 50's and 60's. The ones out there every day all winter. The ones you don't hear about. You only see their lonely tracks down the proud lines. 

Tobey Carman skis 2,500-feet of corn in Prince William Sound in mid-April. Cathy, Tobey, Cortney, Eric Larson and I spent an epic week out here, skiing chutes and faces off nunataks above the ocean and icefields. 

Tobey Carman skis 2,500-feet of corn in Prince William Sound in mid-April. Cathy, Tobey, Cortney, Eric Larson and I spent an epic week out here, skiing chutes and faces off nunataks above the ocean and icefields. 

Dave Gierling running the kitchen in the Petra Palace at our Denali Ski Base Camp. Thanks for a great trip Dave, Eli, Chris and Paul! We nailed it!

Dave Gierling running the kitchen in the Petra Palace at our Denali Ski Base Camp. Thanks for a great trip Dave, Eli, Chris and Paul! We nailed it!

Tobey Carman over 7,000-feet in the Western Chugach, where we skied a few peaks and avoided patches of bullet-proof ice. Perhaps this was a first ski descent. Perhaps it's been skied a dozen times. Either way, I hope you can also have the same experience and never know I was there. 

Tobey Carman over 7,000-feet in the Western Chugach, where we skied a few peaks and avoided patches of bullet-proof ice. Perhaps this was a first ski descent. Perhaps it's been skied a dozen times. Either way, I hope you can also have the same experience and never know I was there. 

June 1, 2017. Last run of the year. Cortney Carman starting 1,000 vertical feet of 45-degree corn in the Western Chugach. Tobey, Cortney and I waited for two hours above this west-facing run. We snoozed and tossed pebbles to test how the crust was sun-softening into cream. Earlier in the day we skied 3,500 feet of north-facing powder to a different glacier's end.

June 1, 2017. Last run of the year. Cortney Carman starting 1,000 vertical feet of 45-degree corn in the Western Chugach. Tobey, Cortney and I waited for two hours above this west-facing run. We snoozed and tossed pebbles to test how the crust was sun-softening into cream. Earlier in the day we skied 3,500 feet of north-facing powder to a different glacier's end.