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Report From Alaska: Part 1

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
We're back.

We just returned from our heil-skiing trip to the Chugach Range in Alaska. We visited the Alaska Rendezvous Lodge (ARL), located 45 miles east of Valdez on the Thompson Pass Highway.

It's almost impossible to describe skiing in the Chugach Range. If you've been there, you already understand and this is going to sound like just another babbling account of somebody's "trip of a lifetime". If you haven't been there, there's no way that my words and photos will allow you to comprehend the beauty, scale, and "feel" of skiing in those mountains.

The scale of those mountains is what I found so amazing. The Chugach Range is several hundred miles long by a couple hundred miles wide. When you fly over these mountains, you see individual glaciers that could swallow all of Jackson Hole with room to spare. There are peaks, valleys, glaciers, faces, couloirs, icefields, spines, ribs, shoulders, gullies, cliffs and bowls literally everywhere you look. During the five days we flew, we landed on a total of eleven peaks or ridges. That's out of over 260 peaks that ARL has skied at one time or another.

These mountains are so enormous that I eventually started thinking of things we skied in terms like "how many Hobacks" or "how many Rendezvous Bowls" a given run might be. Often, we'd be standing at the top of a new run and our guide would point and say something like "I'll ski to that shadow line down there and then you'll come down one at a time". So we'd stand there on the ridgeline and watch as he gradually became a smaller and smaller speck in the distance. Finally, about "one and a half Hobacks" away, he would pull to a stop and we would just look at each other with our mouths wide open.

We arrived just exactly as a three-day snowstorm commenced, so we were unable to fly for the first three days. We *were* able to do some van-assisted skiing on Thompson Pass, so that kept us from going too stir-crazy while waiting for the weather to break.

Here's a photo of our "heli" for those first couple of days:

On Monday night, the skies finally cleared and the next morning we were finally able to fly:

Here's my wife is enjoying a long, long, run called Crybabies. I know the camera angle makes it look fairly flat, but if you notice the sluff by her right shoulder you'll understand that it's a little steeper than it looks. By the way, it's pronounced with a really lousy French accent; "cry-bay-BEES". There is, of course, a story behind the name.

After a couple of "warmup runs" on Crybabies, we stepped it up a bit and landed at this nice little airy saddle called "Loneliness":

Here's guide Bruce Keller doing the ski cut to make sure nothing big was going to slide on Loneliness:

Here's some of the scenery from the Loneliness landing zone as I waited my turn. This is the kind of stuff we were skiing:

We did two runs on Loneliness because there was so much great snow left after our first run that we just couldn't leave. So after trashing Loneliness, we flew up a glacier to a couloir called Blue Corn. Here's a shot of it from the heli... it's the chute on the right in the photo:

We skied Blue Corn and then on and on and on and on and on down a glacier at the foot of it and it was time for lunch.

More to come...
post #2 of 16

Nice . . .

Excellent catch Bob. Congrats to you and Ruth for a what-looks-to-be trip of a lifetime!
post #3 of 16
Looks amazing Bob.. Keep the pictures comming.
post #4 of 16
Efffin-tastic! I gotta get back up there soon.
post #5 of 16
That's awesome, hope you had a good time.
post #6 of 16
Oh my Gawwwwwwwwd, that's amazing!!

Sorry, the snow's not deep enough , and judging by Blue Corn, not steep enough, either

It'll be 60 here today.
post #7 of 16
Although I don't have the skills or the $ to go on such adventures, I am grateful that I can see and hear what it might be like from you! Thanks so much for that!! :-) What kind of camera did you use? (because the pictures are just perfect.)
post #8 of 16
post #9 of 16
Sorry you had to SLUM it like that just to get some skiing in Bob:

I'll see if the board wants to take up a collection so maybe you can at least go to Jackson Hole or something

Great pics and it keeps us all dreaming
post #10 of 16
I just can't imagine something like that , the Wow factor is off the chart. The runs you make then are like 2,500- 3,500 continous vertical feet?
post #11 of 16
Would you mind me asking what the price of your trip was and the guaranteed vertical? I've been doing some research and am just trying to compare. And it looks awesome by the way. More pictures!
post #12 of 16
post #13 of 16
Takes my breath away!
post #14 of 16


In this photo:


Do you have to jump cliffs? Looks like there is a cliff below.

What level of skiing skill one needs to join this expedition? I can come down most if not all JH slopes(I regularly cover all Squaw Valley trails), without jumping the cliffs. I won't be able to ski 2500 vertical without stopping, maybe I need to stop 4-5 times in between. Do I qualify to go to this kind of expedition, if not where do I start?
post #15 of 16
post #16 of 16
Thread Starter 


Thanks to all for the nice comments about the photos. I'm going to post another batch tomorrow.

Here's the answers to some of the questions you all asked:

1. The camera is a Canon Digital Rebel, which is an SLR, set on high resolution (8 megapixels). The lens I used the most is a 38-80 Canon zoom.

2. I think our runs averaged 3500 to perhaps 4000 feet. There were a couple of situations in which our guide would probably have PREFERRED that we ski about 2,500 vertical without stopping, but a few of the skiers in our group simply couldn't ski that far. The guides didn't freak out if someone stopped to rest, they just made it very clear where they definitely DID NOT want anyone to stop.

3. I'll have to look up the pricing because we actually didn't personally pay for it.

4. We didn't have to jump ANY cliffs to get into or out of any of the runs. There were a few moderately built-up ridges or minor cornices we needed to negotiate, but there was always a pretty easy route through those.

5. There were people in our group who are what I would call strong and confident skiers but not HEROS by any means. There was so much terrain there that any moderately good skier could have a great time. I would say that if you can ski any big western mountain in powder and moderate crud you can ski there. One of the issues the owners of the lodge continually deal with is the perception that the ONLY skiing there is 60-degree, 180 centimeter-wide couloirs that require cliff-jumping to get into. We skied very few pitches that were really any steeper than a lot of the stuff at Snowbird, Squaw, Whistler, or JH. I think the only issue that might arise is if the lodge was filled with skiing rock stars who wanted to ski really steep stuff and you were the only "normal" skier who happened to be there. First, I don't think that's likely, and second, if you simply talk to the owners before you go and give them an honest assessment of your skills they would very readily tell you if they think it would be over your head. The owners want very badly to get the message out that you don't need to be super-expert to have an absolutely fantastic time there.

More tomorrow...
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