Posts Tagged ‘Thompson Pass’

AK Ingenue: Twas the Night Before Tailgate

Written by leehart on April 4th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

Cody Freitag, Tailgate Alaska, Thompson Pass, Valdez AK

"Cowboy" Cody Freitag

Tailgate Alaska started Sunday up on Thompson Pass. The 12-day festival features snow-science and survival education, sled-riding and sled-maintenance clinics, side events, live concerts, vendors, beer garden and parties – official and heaps of unofficial camp parties – throughout the duration. I looked through the list of sponsors and can’t tell who the beer sponsor is but if the parking lots are any indicator, it should be a tossup between Pabst Blue Ribbon and Rainier.

The day before Tailgate started my friend Kate and I got a leisurely start on the day and headed up to the Pass in uncertain weather. It was gloomy in town and the collection of webcams from around the area were not painting an encouraging picture but frequently, as was the case Saturday, weather in Valdez is entirely different than on the Pass. Just as we arrived under party sunny skies, Cowboy Cody, who’d stood us up a week earlier, called to say he was at the Pass and offering us a sled bump. Cody Freitag is a Valdez local and one talented snow machine rider. His rig is fast and powerful and Cody is young and fearless and knows how to make his machine carve and charge. Which all combine for a scare-you-shitless maiden voyage for two virgin sled bumpers.

We went out to the base of Nick’s together. Kate and her board rode on the saddle in front of Cody while I towed behind. This was good. It slowed Cody down but heated up his snow machine. So he dropped me and Kate’s board and then took my unsuspecting friend on a cool-down ride which involved cutting doughnuts in the snow at an alarmingly fast rate. While her voice was muffled it was clear enough Kate was a little unnerved . And then, perhaps not used to donoughting while doubling, the sled tipped over and slid to a rather abrupt stop on its side. If Cody was trying to impress Kate, this was not the way to do it.

Properly dusted off and righted, Cody and Kate returned to where he’d left me and Kate’s board, picked up the board then whisked away toward Berlin Wall, popping wheelies and arcing high speed carves. It looked scary. Then it was my turn and I got to discover what riding a snow machine on the edge of control felt like. Holding my skis and poles across my lap with one hand while holding onto the steering column with my free hand. I wished desperately that I had both hands on the machine and wondered if Cody understood how close those skis could be to catching and being wrenched from my hands if he leaned the machine over far enough that they could grab a bite into the snow. Going fast and steeply up made me slide toward the rear of the saddle, Kate was sure she was inches from falling off entirely. By the time I arrived, Kate had been able to shake off most of the after-effect of sheer terror. Knowingly, she gave me time to do the same before we started our descent. We had been scared shitless. We were both certain we had just flirted with and miraculously cheated Death.

Once we dropped off the wind packed ice at the top of the knoll, we had some nice turns down the face before the gray set in and created vertigo-inducing flat light. Flat light on a wide open snow slope tricks the brain into wondering whether you’re skiing up ordown, left or right, off a cliff into oblivion or about to slam onto a flat road, there was just no telling. You can’t see a thing. The usual resort trick of skiing near trees doesn’t work on the wide open snow slopes of the Chugach. There are no trees. The best I could do was pick up the tracks of the folks before us and parallel those. Thankfully I had skied this slope once before and was relatively certain there weren’t any unavoidable death-defying obstacles.

Cody was waiting for us at the bottom and gave us a ride back to camp, saving us a long slog. Once back, Kate and I decided the best way to prep for a possible second sled bump with Cody was to fully embrace the moment and our surroundings. We also had a decision to make. head down to town to change and come back up or just stay up at the Pass and ask Kate’s friends to bring us some jeans.

Tailgate AK, Thompson Pass, Valdez AK

They don't call it Tailgate Alaska for nothing

We made the eco-decision to stay and not burn more gas driving up and down the pass (about 30 miles each way). We made the eco-choice and rather than burn all that expensive gas (4.35/gal) opened up the rear hatch of Kate’s car, popped a couple tall boys and got into the spirit of Tailgate.

Emboldened by PBR, we went to visit our neighbors down the road where we’d seen some kiters. We didn’t find kiters but we did find a crew homesteading a deluxe encampment using shovels to carve deluxe built-in snow couches and a high-rise igloo alongside another buddy’s homey car/utility trailer home the entire back end of with was consumed by a king-size wood frame bed.

Mark shows us the grand entryway

We left the not-kiters before fully wearing out our welcome and wandered back toward Tailgate

Tailgate AK, Valdez AK, Chugach Range, Thompson Pass

Kicking back in the deluxe ice couch with Jay & Blake

base to say hi to a couple girlfriends who introduced us to more friends at Alaska Backcountry Adventures (ABA). Flitting about this way, comparing notes on the cute boys we were

Tailgate AK, Valdez Ak, Chugach

Taking the tour of the deluxe trailer digs

meeting, laughing and staying on the move, we were able to whittle away at the hours until the music started at the Tsaina Lodge at 9. But as the sun set in the Chugach, like any other mountain range,

the temperatures drop precipitously so we headed to the Tsaina about an hour before the band started mostly because it was warm there. We pulled into the lot at just about the same time as some friends had driven up from town with two pairs of jeans, one for Kate and one for me so we didn’t have to geek out in ski pants all night long.

We went to the Tsaina’s spacious and clean women’s bathroom to change and freshen up. The heat was sublime. We then went back outside to where some friends gathered around a raging pit fireplaces. The heat was sublime there too. We ate reindeer sausage sandwiches, a novelty, not to mention an absolute at only $4 each. Definitely the best food deal in Valdez. After more mingling around the fire we adjourned to the inside bar and quickly staked out space at the fireplace in the Tsaina’s Great Room where our friends gathered round us.

Tsaina Lodge, live music, 33 degrees

Ric Nielsen, left, is joined by cool stepdad Bruce Good

On stage, Ric Nielsen and his stepdad Bruce Good laid down some fine acoustic tracks as it started to snow outside. The snow created a beautiful backdrop. Lots of folks drove up from Valdez for the party. Some were friends I’d already met since moving here, Kate introduced me to some more, we had drinks, made even more friends, had more drinks and generally having a big time.


AK Ingenue: Springtime in the Chugach

Written by leehart on March 20th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures


Worthington Glacier, Mineral Creek, Thompson Pass, Valdez, AKWorthington Glacier, Thompson Pass, Valdez AKWorthington Glacier, Thompson Pass, Valdez AlaskaMineral Creek Nordic trails Valdez Alaska

Mineral Creek Nordic trails Valdez Alaska

Classic skiing Mineral Creek trail Valdez Alaska

Classic skiing Mineral Creek trail Valdez Alaska

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.


AK Ingenue: Chix in the Chugach

Written by leehart on March 17th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

Thompson Pass Chugach Valdez AK

Kate, left, and RaeAnn

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.


AK Ingenue: Riding the School Bus

Written by leehart on March 9th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

Moonlight Basin, Thompson Pass, Valdez, AKJosh McDonald, Alison Sayer, Moonlight Basin, Thompson Pass, Valdez AKAlison Sayer, Moonlight Basin, Thompson Pass, Valdez AKThe view from Moonlight Basin, Thompson Pass, Valdez AK

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.[2] 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!




Introducing: Alaska Ingenue, a Cinderella story

Written by leehart on February 26th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

Welcome to incomparable Alaska

Welcome to incomparable Alaska

This marks the start of the chronicles of my first adventure in Alaska with my client Dean Cummings’ H2o Guides. I had just barely started to scratch the surface of all the amazing in-bounds, side- and backcountry terrain in Revelstoke and then opportunity knocked and poof, gone! So from a 24-hour drive north of Salida, Colorado I’ve landed norther of Colorado. The goal of AK Ingenue is to share with you what I expect to be an amazing introduction to living, working and  playing Alaska-style. Watch my Facebook page to find out about the next installments where you’ll join me for the full gamut of winter fun including all kinds of skiing, snow machining, ice-climbing, some insider glimpses of the heliski biz and more.

Karen Cummings, Salmonberry sidecountry

Karen Cummings, Salmonberry sidecountry

It’s been a week since I touched down in Valdez thanks to the unflappable piloting skills at Grant Aviation. The day after I landed was a momentous occasion, the official opening day of Salmonberry Ski Hill.  I sprang for the $10 season pass and  joined Dean’s wife Karen, and kids Wyatt and Tesslina – in breaking in the new rope tow.  It’s actually a kind of re-opening since there was a ski hill in the same location in the late ’80’s that’s been dormant until Karen rallied local civic leaders to bring the hill back to life. The four-minute rope tow takes folks 1100 feet to the top of a rolling hill. While Wyatt and Tess did a lap, Karen led me off-piste for a couple fresh turns – literally – a couple.

The next day, I needed to get to town for some shopping – it’s just a 20 minute walk but – but Dean offered to give me a ride. In case you haven’t heard, while many ski areas in the Lower 48 were languishing in drought, Valdez was getting hammered. There’s just under 40 feet of snow in town, about a 100 foot base in the

Yellow Taxi, Valdez style

Yellow Taxi, Valdez style

mountains. Fun to play in, deep snow creates havoc on buildings and roads and big equipment to move it all is a pretty common sight around town so it was little surprise that my commuter vehicle was big and yellow. This past week has been all work work work. So I joined the gym to keep in shape in between ski excursions. Prince William Sound Community College has a public fitness center where you can “rent” nordic ski gear and snowshoes for free which came in handy when I joined Karen and her friend Jen on a quick snowshoe jaunt at Dock Point.

Snowshoe view, Dock Point, Valdez AK

Snowshoe view, Dock Point, Valdez AK

All work and no play, at least no real ski play, was starting to make me and the H2o crew a bit twitchy so when  Dean gave the guys – Ryan, Chad, Paul, Elliot and Max – the day off, we all hopped in a van and headed up to Thompson Pass. Quite the views on the way up and we saw two moose (meese?). The ice in Keystone canyon is amazing.

It was a first in many ways today. Just before leaving Revy, I had transferred my Dynafit bindings from my retired Sugar Daddys to my new sweet, fat H2o Outdoor Gear Kodiak 162’s (120 under foot). Today was their first test drive. I was also test driving new skin technology from Gecko. The skis are amazing and the Gecko’s worked just fine. I’m still dialing in my Scarpa Gea’s which I love because they’re so light and comfy and easy to get in/out of but they’re just a wee bit big for me and it became really clear today I still need to work to fill up some volume and get rid of slop.

Couple o’ quick takeaways from today:

Scale is out of whack here: The terrain is bigger than it looks; it’s colder than it seems.

You can gain an astounding amount of vert in just three hours of skinning.

I need to work toward a bit more graceful steep uphill skin track kick turn.

I can’t wait to go again. It’s dumping right now and expected to do so for the next couple days and taper off by the end of the week.

Sorry about the background noise in the video below. It was a little windy on the saddle.