SKI AK 12 MONTHS

A VISUAL STORY OF SKIING EVERY MONTH OF THE YEAR IN ALASKA.

In 2016, I decided I’d like to do some kind of project that involved snowboarding and photography. I had heard that people ski throughout the year in Alaska so I thought I’d like to try it. The goal was to snowboard (calling it skiing from now on) every month of the year. The challenge can be difficult because even though I live in Alaska, there’s usually no new snow between June and August, at least in the areas that I can access fairly easy. But some of the snow from the previous season persists on glaciers and in gullies, so it is possible to complete the task, at least if you’re lucky. I started the challenge in September 2016, as soon as we got the first snow of the season high up in the mountains. I completed the project in August 2017.

September 2016

2016 – Location

I had heard the news that high up in the Talkeetna mountains of Alaska, new snow had arrived and skiing was possible. I set out with two friends, Nick and Andrea for an overnighter at Snowbird glacier that also has a backcountry hut ran by the American Alpine Club. What’s great about skiing this time of the year is that you can utilize a mountain bike to cut down some of the distance that you’d normally have to hike. So we strapped our skis onto our backpacks and started biking on a trail through an easy going valley until we had to ditch our bikes and start hiking up a steep valley to the pass that would drop us down to the glacier we wanted to ski on. As we reached the glacier, the sun had already gone down. We traversed across the glacier to find the hut that we were going to stay at. By the time we reached the hut, it was pretty cold and dark but luckily some other folks staying there had heated up the stove in the hut so it was nice to reach a cozy and warm shelter. The rest of the night we’d get to know to the other mountaineers while sipping on whiskey and watching the Aurora Borealis dance across the sky in many colors. It was a night to remember. The next day we skied knee-deep powder with no previous tracks. The challenge had got off to an unforgettable start!

October 2016

2016 – Location

In October, I decided to go look for snow in another mountain range than in September. Nick and I set out on an overnighter at a public use cabin called Crow Pass Cabin up in the Chugach mountains. The first attempt to ski was a bust as we tried to find skiing up at Jewel Glacier. The conditions were getting wintery up in the alpine, the beautiful cloudless sky greeted us, we had a backcountry hut to ourselves and an amazing Aurora Borealis danced for us through the night but we didn’t get to ski due to lack of snow. A week later some more snow had arrived so we went to look for skiing in the same place with my wife, Eryn and our dog, Lumi. It was a much colder night as we huddled in the backcountry cabin with some fellow skiers. The cold temperatures came with an incredible play of fog that rolled in and out over the pass constantly, offering some great photo-ops. As the day warmed up, we made our way up the glacier and found great skiing conditions. Skiing in October had been a success.

November 2016

2016 – Location

The attempt to ski in November was desperate. It was one of the most challenging months of the year regarding the 12 months of skiing project. We hiked in the rain that eventually turned into snow but the base was so bare still that we literally skied on the tundra and some patches of snow. The only proof of skiing in November is this shot taken by Andrea Fountain of Nick (left), Vicky and I. It still marks the most ridiculous skiing I’ve had but the company made it all worth it.

December 2016

2016 – Location

In December the skiing was full on. We spent many days skiing in Turnagain Pass, mostly our backcountry home mountain, Tincan. Every time we skied in December, there was plenty of fresh powder to play with. The views from the top are spectacular in all directions and this time of the year offers pretty light for photography because the sun stays low on the horizon through the day. It is also time for a lot of temperature changes which offers interesting conditions with fog. You’ll often look at the valleys below blanketed in fog while you’re enjoying a crystal clear blue sky at the top.

January 2017

2017 – Location

In January I spent three weeks backpacking in Patagonia so I missed most of the skiing. I had got a lot of reports that Alaska was experiencing one of the greatest snow seasons in years so I was getting anxious to return from Patagonia to ski. The last week of January I got to ski a couple times. The conditions were the opposite of December. While in December the valleys were still warm and the mountain tops cold, in January it was the other way around. This inversion made the valley incredibly cold which is great for some frosty beard photos but the snowpack higher up is warm and not quite as nice to ski on. We did find some cold powder too, however, but mostly on the lower mountain.

February 2017

2017 – Location

February, as you might guess, is a great month of skiing in Alaska. It is so good, in fact, that I left my camera home every time and focused on skiing. We enjoyed the days out with friends skiing amazing snow and warming up with some whiskey. We only used our phones to take an occasional picture of the experience so the only shot from February that I have was taken by Nick Leopard of me snowboarding in Turnagain pass.

March 2017

2017 – Location

In March we made a week-long trip to Valdez to find world-class backcountry skiing only to deal with the worst snowpack in years. It was a huge bummer because the conditions were great around our home but not good at all in Thompson Pass where it’s normally incredible almost every season. We had rented a house with almost ten people so we were committed to going there. We tried desperately to find anything worthwhile to ski but ended up with some alternative fun like skiing narrow slot canyons. One of the alternative activities we did was to go climb some ice in the middle of the night just for the heck of it. Valdez Lake is a lake that has formed in front of a glacier and has icebergs jutting out of the frozen surface. As we made our way to one of these icebergs in the middle of the night with the whole group, we were surprised to find a light in an ice cave that had formed inside an iceberg. Some fellow was sleeping inside the ice cave in his huge sleeping bag on a frozen lake. We made a campfire and tried some ice climbing on overhung ice inside the iceberg where the cave had formed. Hopefully, we didn’t disturb the man sleeping in the ice cave!

April 2017

2017 – Location

In April we enjoyed nice spring skiing and sunny days. The snowpack is different from the earlier months with some warmer and softer snow. While nothing beats skiing the cold powder, it is also a lot of fun to ski the fast, slippery spring snow. A lot of the days were so sunny and warm that we packed more snacks just to enjoy the day on top of the mountains before skiing down. We even bought a disposable grill to cook sausages, and packed cold beers instead of whiskey to warm us up like we do in the colder months. We skied different places than we did earlier in the season and I spent my birthday this way as well.

May 2017

2017 – Location

May is the month where the valley floors are in complete summer mode but nice spring snow is still deep up in the mountains. It is a great month to ski the backcountry as people move on to summer activities so the mountains are empty. This May the base was deep and the days were warm. There’s nothing like skiing in a t-shirt under the warm sun which we did about once a week through the month.

June 2017

2017 – Location

June was still an easy month to find skiing. We only needed to get up our “home mountain” although it did require a little more work and getting our feet gross in the process. Normally we put skins under our skis to be able to climb the mountains with them, using them like big snowshoes but in June, you can no longer do that from the road. Instead, you have to once again carry your skis on your backpack like we did in September and October. But the good news is that snow still starts fairly low on the mountain so you don’t have to carry them very long. But when you do, you go through a mixture of grass, melting snow, standing water, and mud. And all this is mixed with whatever waste people and dogs have left behind through the season, so you can imagine how gross it can be. But skiing in June on a nice summer day is the best.

July 2017

2017 – Location

By the time July arrived, most of the mountains we skied had lost their snowpack almost completely. You could no longer find the snow easy. Yet again, you had to make your way onto glaciers and in north-facing gullies where the temperatures had stayed low enough and the snow base was deep enough to be able to ski it. Luckily we found some on Jewel Glacier where we skied in October as well. We were able to skin up on the glacier still but mostly we had to carry our skis almost the whole way. The snow we skied on was a wavy hard packed snow that was hard to make turns on. But most of the glacier still had some snow so at least the run was fairly long, unlike in August. 

August 2017

2017 – Location

Not surprisingly, August was the toughest month of the year to find skiing. Just to complete the project, I decided to rely on the same location I did in July. A month later from the time we skied in July, the snow had melted almost entirely on Jewel Glacier. We didn’t even bring skins anymore. Instead, we packed crampons and hoped to find anything to ski on in total despair. Some snow had remained on one side of the glacier and I was incredibly happy to find it. As we started to ski, the rain started as soon as we did. The run took probably about 30 seconds and it was very slow moving snow but it didn’t matter because this was the end of the 12 months of skiing project. I had accomplished the goal. It was an incredible project to accomplish. In the future, however, I’ll probably pass July and August! 😉

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Ski 12 Months // Alaska Stories

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