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Ski Mountaineering Courses in the Alaska Range

This spring I had two trips into Denali National Park and Preserve which holds the mighty peaks and glaciers known as the Alaska Range. These were instructional courses where students had an interest in expanding their mountain skills to allow them to do their own future trips on glaciated terrain.

First trip was with two local Alaska ladies. I love getting out into the mountains with fellow Alaskans. There is an incredible playground right out the door of our homes. We flew in at the end of April into an area I’ve never been to before. With 33 trips for me into the Alaska Range it was really neat to get into an entire new area that I’ve been wanting to go to for awhile. The venue worked out well and I would certainly go back again!

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4:00am wakeup for an epic sunrise.

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Roped up getting a feel of the area and snowpack.

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Skied a nearby glacier that made for 3.2 miles of continuous skiing. It was one of, if not the longest ski run I’ve ever done in my life.

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Crevasse rescue training. Prevention is of course the best practice to avoid a crevasse fall but when it happens you better know exactly what to do… and fast. I like to focus on teaching the importance of the big picture during an incident as lots of issues can arise. Assume a crevasse fall will not be straightforward, if it is, then your practice will make it easy. Of all the haul systems out there the two I think are best to teach are the dropped loop 2:1 and a 6:1. If you need more hauling power than a 6:1 then there is something wrong.

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Cruising down the glacier. Glaciers are like highways in the big mountains, they get you places until you exit off for your objective.

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Two people that now have the Alaska Range addiction. Super fun trip out in the mountains, thanks Jana and Milissa.

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On another day of exploration.

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Good old map and compass navigation is a dying skill. GPS units will fail you once in a while and batteries die.

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We missed first tracks on this run. My partner Joe Stock at Alaska Guide Collective had a trip on a nearby glacier and snipped the line. He was coming over to say hello but we were off on our own adventure that day. We all met up back in Talkeetna.

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Shortly after this run we packed up camp and flew out before a weeks worth of storms rolled in.


Second Trip - Pika Glacier, Little Swiss

After a week of unpacking, office work and repacking I went back in with two guys visiting from California. These guys had lots of experience ski mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada mountains but needed the glacier travel portion so they can get that full freedom of the hills feeling. When I think of “ski mountaineering” in Alaska I think of objectives that require glacier travel and maybe the occasional use of ropes for getting yourself up and/or down a ski run. Unlike the craggier peaks of the Sierra’s or Tetons, here in Alaska our peaks are typically stacked with deep snowpacks and we often focus on the bigger open runs.

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Unloading one of Talkeetna Air Taxi’s de Havilland beavers onto the Pika Glacier in the Little Switzerland area. Little Swiss is a popular place in the Alaska Range, and for good reason.

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Just cruising around checking out the area and snow conditions.

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This is one of my favorite photos from this season. I started to add my logo onto @remarkable.adv Instagram page posts, thinking it gives it a little added pro touch.

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Good morning - it’s a really nice day! Wanna go skiing?

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We had beautiful weather.

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Incredible view of Mount Foraker (aka Sultana “The Mother”) from camp.

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Super fun people to have out in the mountains. Best of luck on your adventures Bill and Wes! Hope to see you again sometime.

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Another group below the Crown Jewel.

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Here comes our flight out. Thanks TAT for the professional flight service as always - see ya next time.

Thanks for reading!

D'BEST goes D'BEAST

Two years ago I wrote an article for The Avalanche Review publication that appeared in the September 2016 issue. See here for the original article I wrote about a new way of doing an effective beacon check. It works really well and does not let you skip potentially life saving steps before you leave the trail head, which I see happen way too often. 

This year - thanks to Eeva Latosuo (Alaska Pacific University and Alaska Avalanche School) The D'BEST beacon check has evolved to D'BEAST. The 'A' is for "Airbag or Avalung". Is your Avalung out? If you or anyone in your group uses an airbag backpack you want to make sure you check that the handle is out, and turned on if using the JetForce technology. If you are going to spend a bunch of money and carry the extra weight of an airbag pack but do not have the handle out, it's basically worthless.

D - Display (any errors on your display screen?)

B - Battery (what is your battery strength? replace at 50%)

E - Electronics (all electronics stored at least 20cm away? phone to airplane mode, turned off?)

A - Airbag/Avalung (is your airbag handle out? activated? Avalung out?)

S - Search (check your groups search function)

T - Transmit (have them stow properly and check that each person is transmitting) 

Lastly, make sure the leader switches back to transmit and stowed away properly. 

Using this acronym is an easy way to ensure you do not skip important steps to start your day skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling (aka snowmachine in Alaska) or other mountain travel. I use it every single day I go out whether teaching avalanche courses, backcountry ski tour guiding, heli-ski guiding or just out with friends on a personal day. Let D'BEAST be your way of doing a beacon check too.

Thanks for reading - Nick D'Alessio