Monday, March 17, 2008

Alaska, Thompson Pass and Valdez...

As a skier, you certainly heard that word a lot. Every movie, every magazine as footage of it. They always make it looks as the steepest, gnarliest and more challenging terrain. So how is really Alaska?!

Pretty much everything you hear is true. It is steep, gnarly and for sure quite challenging! We got here couple days ago and were planning to ski Thompson Pass. After driving 12 hours from Whitehorse, we got here around 4am.

First thing we realized: damm it's impressive!! Sharp ridges, steep couloirs and big open faces are all over the place! Thompson pass is all in alpine terrain so we were quite happy to have some good visibility to check it out. By what we saw and from what we've been told, the snowpack was quite stable.

Using the book "Alaska Backcountry Skiing: Valdez & Thompson Pass" we were able to hit the backcountry without any problem. It's really a must to whoever wants to spend some time touring around Valdez. We had some good day skiing some nice and steep stuff but we had something else in mind...

Since there was a high pressure over Valdez, we decided to try to get on a chopper to have a single drop off a peak with a guide and from there hike around for a day. After a little bit of shopping, we made a deal with Valdez Heli-ski Guide for a drop. The only problem was that they were expecting some very high wind.

Well, the wind didn't show up!!! Instead, we had a bluebird day with moderate wind and mild temperature. So here we are all setup and minded for our first ride in a chopper ever!

Skiing in Alaska is pretty cool, but being drop by a chopper to ski in AK is even better!

Going up, the guide showed us the peak where we were landing. The Cherry couloir drop from Python peak with an entrance at 45+ degree and the rest of it around 40+.

The snow was not that great and going down was really challenging since if you start sliding down, you can end up hurting yourself quite badly. After that warm up run, we climb another couloir just next to Cherry couloir. The bootpack allowed us to ski 2 different couloir. It's a pretty good thing because opening the bootpack was quite exhausting.

The snow was again hard to ski switching from soft to crust to ice. Babiche ski first and hit a icy spot, went to the backseat... and ear a pop followed by knee pain. Yep, the knee is busted. He has been able to ski the rest of the couloir to a safe flat spot, where he rested while I hiked up for one run. The bad thing is that the snow on the other couloir was very nice and the turns came easily. After that run, he said that he would not be skiing for the rest of the day. So here we are with 2 choices: either all skiing out or having him being pick up by the chopper while I keep skiing. The decision was made quickly and after waiting for the chopper, I kept skiing.

The other couloirs were really nice and easy to ski with good snow, easy sluff and nice steep run. The day ended after 4500ft of bootpack, 6 runs and a total vertical (with the heli drop) of more than 8000ft vertical. Don't have to tell you than I was very please with that day! I HIGHLY recommand skiing that kind of day once in your lifetime!!! The thrill is almost incredible to describe and being out there enjoying the snow in those mountain is just the best thing ever.

Back to Babiche knee. Probably the LCL is sprain from what he was told at the medical clinic.
Meaning: season/trip is over... Since we had plan for 2 more weeks of skiing, it also means the end of my trip too...

I've been skiing for the last 2 days by myself or hooking up with other skiers, but it is really not the same. So the plan is now one more day of skiing before heading down toward Whistler where I can ski 3 more days with JS while Babiche will be driving back to school in California!

One thing is sure: we'll be back in AK because we are really not done skiing around those mountains!!!

Short term forecast... 3500 km toward Vancouver!
Extended forecast... 5050 km toward California!



Kneester said...

Sweet sweet pics, man that place looks great. Sorry to hear about a knee injury. I can relate, I am just recovering (2 weeks) from my ACL recon and MCL. Heel up.

Heliskiing said...

Awesome pics! Thanks for sharing your experience with us! Hope except knee injury the thrill was incredible to you…