It has been a great winter so far in Alaska, the storms have been plentiful and the skiing has been excellent. Work is busy and play has been fun.
From October through Christmas Eve we received good cold powder snow all the way to sea level, with several nice weather days in between snowfall to enjoy the good views. Since Christmas Day in the Girdwood and Turnagain Pass area it has precipitated nearly every day with only a few breaks in the clouds between wild storm systems. The weather forecasts continually called for "Snow Likely" 7 days out for the majority of the forecasts. It seems they have been confident in recognizing the fact that Alaska has been in a nearly continuous active storm pattern. This pattern has yet to show itself giving up, today the weather forecast continues to call for snow 7 days out. Alyeska Ski resort based in the lovely town of Girdwood currently sits at number one, for the most snow of any ski resort in the world at 464 inches up top so far... and counting!
That's not too bad. This is pretty typical and one of the many reasons I live here. The mountains also offer unsurpassed ski terrain and some of the best views in the world. However it's not for everyone, you've got to love the short days and long nights through mid-winter. You also can't hate on the rain because without it we don't get the copious amounts of snow falling in the mountains. Yes rain. Here our towns sit at or near sea level and it's a lot warmer than you might think around coastal Alaska, especially with the warming oceans. If you have the patience, Alaska will deliver! The long springtime daylight hours, deep powder and huge mountains are why Alaska is so famous for skiing.
I love how we can get all the types of snow, from the wet and heavy to the coldest arctic blower powder. It keeps it different, interesting, and it's good for your skiing skills. The best is the luscious Alaska "velvet" powder we are famous for. Luckily this year the snow line has hovered close to sea level and upwards of about 3,000 feet for a short period. Overall the snowline has remained around 500 - 1,200 feet give or take. So our lovely ski resort and our backcountry ski areas have been stacking up nice and white.
Enough talking about it, here are some photos from this winter so far. These are some of the nice days I was able to squeeze in before and between storms.
Jeremy Allyn skiing in the sun above the clouds on Sunburst's South Face, Turnagain Pass, Alaska. Jeremy is the Executive Director of the Alaska Avalanche School. #bossesdayoff
Erin Kilbury also skis in the sun above the clouds. The snow was perfect, consistent each and every turn from top to bottom.
Kyle Bates enjoying the early season views in November. It's good to have winter!
Beautiful late evening on Microdot looking towards the Pinnacle in Hatcher Pass, Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska.
Aleph Johnston-Bloom working hard to check out the snow conditions before teaching an Avalanche Level 1 course with me. Aleph was the past director of the Alaska Avalanche School. Now she is happy working as an instructor and enjoying her new job as a forecaster for the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center.
New instructors this year to the Alaska Avalanche School include from left to right: Brooke Edwards, Elliot Gaddy (and I pictured) and Jed Workman digging the pit. These professionals bring high value to the school and I'm lucky to work and continue to learn with them. Brooke brings high energy and enthusiasm, tons of backcountry and helicopter skiing experience. Elliot is a skier like the rest of us but also brings high end alpine climbing experience to the table. Jed is one of the most experienced climbers and skiers in Alaska, heli-ski guide and forecaster for the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center. Good additions to our already incredible team of avalanche course instructors.
The first avalanche course in Hatcher Pass this year turned out to be a gorgeous weekend of nice winter weather, sunrises/sunsets and even some northern lights. A friendly reminder to carry only high quality equipment, this avalanche probe pictured broke on its first day outside. Some cheap probes use string instead of metal cable. Moments before this broke I warned my student of these strings breaking. He said, "yeah I was wondering about that." He deployed his probe during rescue training and it snapped in half. It was almost too good of a "teachable moment".
Travis McAlpine and I cruise up the north ridge of Silvertip Peak. Turnagain Pass and its surrounding mountains are lit up by the mid day sun around solstice. Alaska winter may seem dark and cold to some but the incredible low-angle light it casts offers surreal beauty. We skied the east face which offered 3,000 feet of perfect powder. About 6 years ago I attempted to ski that face but we turned around as it was being wind loaded and we didn't like it. The ridge offered an excellent and safe ski that day in itself, a successful day.
December light and Alaska mountains are beautiful. Here the famous "Library" on Tincan, the Eddies south headwall, Wolverine Peak of the Kenai Mountains and the Chugach Mountains in the distance create an image for the afternoon moon.
This winter I have been very busy working teaching avalanche courses. Personal time has been skiing pow at the resort and getting out to the backcountry whenever the weather allows. This day I was hired for a day of ski guide training. Conrad grew up in Girdwood but lives in Washington now, he is interested in taking courses with the American Mountain Guides Association and becoming a ski guide in the future. So during his holiday family visit home he hired me to give him a good intro to the ski guide's toolbox and the expectations to the rigorous AMGA Ski Guide courses and exams. We had a good day, it was nice to get stellar views above the clouds in Turnagain Pass.
The Sunburst weather station has been through a beating this year. That little anemometer (wind speed reader) has seen up to 117 mph wind gusts this year. That night there was 5 hours straight of 100+ mph wind gusts and many hours of 80-90 mph gusts during one of the many strong storms this year. Kickstep mountain looms behind.
Thanks to the Voile Manufacturing ski company for asking me to become a product ambassador. Until this year I have never been on Voile skis, I am pleasantly surprised with these planks. The Charger ski is my dream ski, it is perfect, light, fat and stable... it rips! The V8 ski impressed me from day one. How such a wide and light ski can shred the pow and rail the hard-pack is beyond me. Check out their gear at Voile.com