Alaska Backcountry Skiing for MSR

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Dragging sleds laden with gear and supplies through a foot fresh snow is rarely easy, especially when you add in an uphill climb. But the old moraine hump would offer a place to dig camp above the very real threat of avalanche run out. It was hot work in the March sun and the warmer temps had triggered the beginning of the spring ‘shed’ here in Southcentral Alaska. By afternoon, wet snow avalanches were sliding on all Southwest aspects. The debris funneled down both sides of the small rise that served our camp. Even though we were safe from the run out, it was unnerving to be so close to the action. And with a mixed bag of persistent instabilities lingering on the surrounding peaks, we knew we better have our assessment dialed in if we were to take advantage of this break in the weather.

Various ridges of high pressure had directed warm tropical air up from Hawaii, bringing a fire hose of precip to AK. We call this reoccurring phenomenon The Pineapple Express. Several feet of wet, heavy snow covered the mountains south of us making them untouchable for weeks. Here in the Talkeetnas the storms had been laying down snow in more measured amounts and at colder temps. Any pockets of stability could produce deep powder skiing, something this season had seriously lacked to date.

Once our assessment of the proposed terrain gave us the go ahead to tread lightly, we headed for a group of north facing couloirs. The snow was already starting to heat up on the ridgeline and we could feel our window of opportunity closing. My partner Kyle stopped at the top of the furthest chute and started to transition to ‘down’ mode. After finding a break in the cornice guarding the chutes, he linked turn after turn milking out the run in perfect powder snow. At the bottom, we could already see signs of critical warming and decided the face had entered the danger zone for wet snow slides. Several slides let loose on the aspects around us while we skinned back to camp. Today was a ‘one and done’ day, but that’s what you sign up for out here. It’s about quality over quantity (and the day delivered that for sure). Besides, kicking it in the sun back at basecamp with a cold IPA pondering what tomorrow will bring is not too shabby.

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