Archive for March, 2012
Per capita, pound for pound or however you want to measure it, I’d have to say Valdez AK has some pretty awesome outdoor women.
The women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in Valdez are all pretty accomplished, if understated, athletes. They are confident, competent and self-reliant. They are skiers, snowboarders, sailors, climbers, kite boarders, hikers, learners, educators, teachers and friends. Like a lot of other folks here they the love the mountains and the ocean and the way both come together here in Valdez.
Some say I’ve just gotten lucky to fall in with the right crowd. I do feel lucky about that but give all credit to Allison who has introduced me to her friends all of whom make up one pretty cool circle of friends that just keeps rippling outward. I’m finding too that the women attracted here to heliski - sadly the vast minority of heliski clients – could easily fit in with the locals.
Spring has sprung in Valdez and this past weekend was a glorious time to get out and enjoy bluebird days.
Saturday I took my loaner Classic skis for a loop around the Mineral Creek trail. Prince William Sound Community College lets you check out Nordic loaner gear for free. They have really nice Classic and Skate skis as well as snowshoes. I quickly discovered I made a good decision when I went snowshoeing the other day. Glad I didn’t try to cross the river during my snowshoe outing the other night. You can’t. It’s simply not possible.
Sunday I loaded up the skis onto my pack and walked out to the highway to have a hand at the local “thing”hitching up to the pass. Some nice folks – Jim and Magdalena – picked me up and I invited myself to ski with them at the Worthington Glacier.
Here’s a few pix from the weekend.
It was Friday and sunny in Valdez which means time to cut the workday short and go play.
I was introduced to RaeAnn last night at the soft launch of the new Mountain Sky restaurant where she waits tables. Joining us was Kate, who deals with student loans at Prince William Sound Community College here in town aI should say I joined Kate and RaeAnn. RaeAnn’s dogs Sadie and River bounded along.
The skinning flowed as easily as the conversation. We talked about relationships, health, the lack of women represented in snow sports mags and movies and the next lines we want to ski. Though not fresh, the snow was surprisingly good. Still trying to dial in the darn AT boots – not lovin’ them – but it was just great to be outside on a pretty day with a couple cool new girlfriends.
Special high fives to Kate on her first day back from being sidelined by an injury.
The other day in the city administrative offices, I saw some aerial views of Valdez. Amid all the frozen white goodness I did not know a river was just around the block from where I live.
So i borrowed some snowshoes from Karen and ventured out thru the hood to the Mineral Trail. Start to end points, the Mineral Creek Trail travels 5.5 miles. The mountain backdrop rises to over 5,000 feet. The trail is interrupted by the high school grounds because, inexplicably, the high school is at the terminus of a persistent avalanche path. The Lowe River is temporarily hushed under a thick blanket of ice and snow. The tracks of snow machines (aka sleds or snowmobiles), dog walkers and now at least one snowshoer criss-cross the lake. But none seem to go all the way across.
Does the ice get too shallow? Could I fall through? Probably not. But when I was a young girl I fell through ice into Rocky River on Christmas Day. We were sledding at the golf course in the Metropolitan Park System that rings Cleveland, OH. The icy water came midway up my thighs. i had to wallow a bit toward shore before I could get up on the ice and out of the water. It was in the olden times before cell phones. My girlfriends and I weren’t going to be picked up for an hour or so, so there was nothing to do but shiver and wait. When I got home, my grandmother was already at our house for Christmas dinner. Someone distracted her while I snuck to my bedroom and changed out of my stiff wet clothes into dry clothes for dinner. We always tried to hide mishaps like that from my grandma so she wouldn’t worry more than she did every day.
So it was that, despite the powerful natural curiosity to see what was on the opposite bank of the Lowe, I didn’t cross and just continued shoeing downriver.
Today was by far the prettiest day since I arrived in Valdez and as luck it was also my maiden voyage heliskiing.
First. Heliskiing is everything I imagined it would be. Amazing views, amazing snow, amazing terrain, amazing experience. If it’s on your “bucket list,” empty the bucket now. Get up here to Valdez, my client, H2o Guides is still taking reservations. There’s still seats available. The season ends at the end of April but trust me, it will be so worth it to be here in the year the snowfall is on record-breaking track. We spent most of the day at the Taznuna Glacier before finishing the day on Page 2 in the classic Books regions of the Chugach.
Second. It was ladies day in the Chugach. Nina Quiros, owner of Blu Boutique in Durango, CO came solo. Daniella from Switzerland came with her husband Michael. For all of us, it was our first heliski adventure though this was Day 2 for Nina, Daniella and Michael. Women are in the vast minority when it comes to the gender breakdown of heliski clients. As today proved, there’s no reason women shouldn’t be better represented on the daily heli manifest. At H20 Guides, you’ll have a lot of fun but you’ll also go home a stronger, more confident skier or rider. I’m on a one-woman campaign to help get the word out to my sisterhood in the outdoor, ski and adventure travel industries. Heliski trips should be the hot new theme in bachelorette parties or any other girlfriend getaway.
Third. Our guide Aaron Karitis was phenomenal. For many H20 clients, Aaron is their first point of contact since he heads up sales/reservations in the summer and before donning his ops manager hat in season. Aaron’s the kind of guide who makes you feel comfortable following him just about anywhere including, in our case today, off steep peak-tops onto glaciated terrain. He exudes confidence, both his own and draws yours out. I hope to be able to ski with the other guides before this season’s out but even if I don’t, I have every confidence they’re as awesome as Aaron.
Fourth. A brief word about the unsung guides of heliskiing – the helicopter pilots. They don’t say much, mostly because they’re so focused. The precision with which they land their aircraft on postage stamp landing zones high atop craggy peaks impresses even tough special ops military types. Thanks for today Vince, you rock!
And thanks to my new girlfriends, Daniella and Nina. To steal the perfect rallying cry for today from Nina, Girls Rule, Guys Drool!
Special thanks too to Dean, the man who started it all and just loves sharing days like today with all his guests.
I’ve started a list of the things that take my breath away here in Valdez: the stunning scenery – like the Alps on steroids, the cold when the wind blows out of the north, nearly eating it walking on the ice-caoted streets, the steepness and length of the descent and the price of groceries.
This, coming from someone who has lived in Telluride where I remember audibly gasping at the price of butter the first time I went to the Village Markup, as the Market is called by locals, to buy groceries. My roommates in Revelstoke thoughtCooper’s the lone grocery option in town was price gouging, and prices were steep. But Telluride, Revelstoke, Hawaii and New Zealand are bargains compated to Valdez.
Not only are the prices high but the breadth of selection and depth of quality are just depressing. Tuesdays are tragic. The delivery truck comes in Tuesday night. You could diet and save money at the same time if you committed to shopping only on Tuesdays. Wednesday’s a different story. Fresh and different produce arrives and is priced on the shelves priced .
Thankfully,there is a health food store. Rogues’ Garden on Fairbanks St., that has a pretty decent selection of groceries but again the prices are just silly high. I stood a long time deciding how badly I wanted to make homemade Hummus as my mind reeled at the $11.95 price tag for a 16 ounce jar. It went against my savvy shopping instinct. I put the jar in my basket then put it back on the shelf twice before deciding that this was simply a new grocery reality I’d have to buck up and pay. Still, by far, THE most expensive jar of tahini I’ve ever purchased.
Welcome to Valdez.
Pictured from left to right: The Ingenue, Josh and Alison, Alison, the view
It was a spectacular day in Valdez on my grandma’s birthday this week. As far as the eye could see it was blue. In Valdez, when the going goes blue, the skiers get going.
Blue days like this are so incredibly beautiful they should be a local holiday. But today, the kids were in school and I was on my way to the School Bus on Thompson Pass. Thompson Psss has a reputation for lots of snow. Wikipedia claims is “the snowiest place in Alaska.” With good reason. In the winter of 1952–1953, 974.5 inches of snow fell—the most ever recorded in one season at one location in Alaska. The pass also holds the Alaska record for the most snow in a single day: 62 inches fell on December 29, 1955. This year is on track to break the records.
It was only my second time on the pass so I was grateful that veterans Alison and Josh were kind enough to let me tag along. Multi-talented Alison does a lot of things, like being a nanny, a researcher, a substitute teacher and heading up the kitchen at the Wrangell Mountains Center in MCarthy in the summer. Josh lives on his 27-foot sailboat in Valdez Harbor and guides multi-day sea kayak tours in the summer through his company Unbeaten Path Sea Kayaking.
There’s a lot of choices of places to go around skiing around Valdez so the hardest part of our morning was settling on a place to go. Brand new to the area, I was just happy to be along and listened and tried to learn as Alison and Josh debated various routes as we toddled up the Richardson Highway in Alison’s little red Subaru. The passenger side window was frozen half open and the suspension is missing in action but the brave little car got us to where we were going and back. Given time constraints and a desire to soak in the sun, the route settled on was to skin up Moonlight Basin, take a look around and then decide the best route to ski down. The skinning wasn’t all that strenuous; we got to the col around Noon. Each of the three of took turns breaking trail although Josh did the lion’s share of setting the track as Alison’s dog Thule bounded along. Aalison kept marveling at our good luck a) there wasn’t anyone else around us on this normally pretty popular route b) there were no snowmobiles c) it wasn’t windy. It was just a perfect day.
Looking at our options from the top of col we agreed to go “up and over” and ski the north facing slope known as School Bus. Made sense to me. The southerly slope we just skinned up was getting getting hit by the sun and the School Bus was in the shade. Looking down at School Bus, it looked wind affected, but looks can be deceiving. The School Bus delivered 3,000 feet of surprisingly soft, easy skiing snow. Sweet and deep!
Under normal circumstances we should have had to hitchhike back to Alison’s car. A pickup truck with a camper shell on the back was parked right where we hit the road and the truck’s kind owner Karen offered to shuttle all three of us and Thule back to Alison’s car. Sweet!
I tagged along today as the H2o Guides staff ventured out to practice crevasse rescue. The magnificent Valdez Glacier is on the outskirts of town, just past the airport. In true AK style, we got on our skis and were towed up behind snowmobiles to the practice site. We traveled over a frozen lake to a big iceberg that had a nice vertical wall. Glaciers are alive so the feature we played on today may not be here next season or it may just relocate to another part of the lake. Once the main route miners took inland during the great Gold Rush of the late 1800s, these days this area is a snowmobilers playground. In the summer, local outfitters guide people to this same spot . . . by boat.
While the guides worked to dig in anchors, prep their lips and set up their mechanical advantages, I took photos. It was a bluebird day at the glacier and bonus: uncharacteristically wind-free. Setting up for a crevasse rescue is tedious business. I got bored and happily volunteered to be the “victim” and get hoisted up the iceberg face. I walked to the base of the ice face with Chris who made sure I got my crampons on, rigged up and a gave me a few pointers about being rescued, namely, help if you can.
I had fun front-pointing on the ice as Mike single-handedly hoisted me up the ice face using a 6:1 mechanical advantage. Cool! Thinking that was fun I volunteered to be a victim again. This time, I was asked to act unconscious. The iceberg wall here was slightly overhanging so I couldn’t front point and walk up the face anyway so “acting” unconscious was easy. I was going to just dangle. After being hoisted a couple dozen feet off the ground my progress stalled. I took pictures of the surrounding scenery. I took pictures of myself. I could eavesdrop on the conversation a couple hundred yards away where Dean was leading the beacon search practice. I was getting dripped on by melting ice from the overhanging wall. I thought about Chinese water torture. It made me remember why ice climbing never held that much appeal. I tucked my camera away to keep it safe from the drips. Clouds started rolling in. I dangled on.
Suspended animation continued. I was tried spinning around for a different view. I saw Dean look my way then get on his snow machine to come see what was up. After checking out the scene, he yelled down to me what was already pretty obvious, the rope was fouled. So basically, what started as a practice session had turned pretty real. I dangled a while longer. Once the rope situation was finally straightened out, the guys made short work of hoisting me the rest of the way up the ice face.
They thanked me for being a good victim. I’m thinking someone owes me a beer.