State of the Backcountry 2016: Alaska

State of the Backcountry 2016: Alaska

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State of the Backcountry 2016: Alaska

After dreaming about climbing and skiing Sphinx for years, I can say with absolute certainty that this one of the most standout ski lines in the world. Photo: Jake Carrier

After dreaming about climbing and skiing Sphinx for years, I can say with absolute certainty that some things are worth the wait. Photo: Jake Carrier

It doesn’t matter where you ski or ride. Come early spring, there’s only one place the compass points. Alaska. Since the early 90’s it’s been the epicenter of the ski world, and decades later the dream is alive and well.

For the past six years, I’ve had the fortune of running PNH Tour Camp with my partners Jeff Dostie and Wes-Slay Stomp-Son. Over the past month we’ve experienced a taste of just about everything one might hope for in an Alaskan ski touring mission-deep powder, northern lights, sticky skintracks, big faces, all-time spines, walled hallways, and a host of incredible characters to share it with.

Keith Davis and Jeff Dostie paddle out for an Alaskan adventure to the "Queen's Chair".

Keith Davis and Jeff Dostie paddle-out for an adventure to the “Queen’s Chair”.

Kicking things off, Jeff and I decided to come north a little early this season in hopes to nail a project we’ve been trying to make happen for years. As luck would have it, we arrived in Cordova on the second of March with a perfect window to give the mighty Sphinx a go from the ground up. In the lead photo you can see our booter on the left, cresting the top of one of the most unique, striking lines in the Chugach Mountains. Our turns were many as the conditions were perfect for ski mountaineering, not so much for flashing like Kent Kreitler so famously did back in the day. Until our ascent no one had ever climbed this prize line before, but I trust it will see more tracks both up and down in the future as the massif and adjacent areas hold incredible potential for ski touring.

The start of our first Northern Lights show at Tour Camp this season. Photo: Wes-Slay Stomp-Son

The start of our first Northern Lights show at Tour Camp this season. Photo: Wes-Slay Stomp-Son

Having budgeted a reasonable timeframe to wait out a prime window to attempt the climb and ski of Sphinx, Jeff, Wes and I had plenty of time to prep for the upcoming Tour Camp season. Before we set up camp, Jeff, Keith Davis and I were able to get out on a local Cordova tour to the classic Queen’s Chair, perhaps the most standout peak reasonably accessible from the town limits. With no snow at sea level a kayak and some rainforest bushwhacking (with machete) was the only way in there, but the turns were worthy, and the mission memorable.

Our Week 2 crew enjoys a beautiful tour to Shakedown Street with a gorgeous view of the Simpson Glacier, Sluffhead, and Dark Star as their backdrop.

Our Week 2 crew enjoys a beautiful tour to “Shakedown Street” with a gorgeous view of the Simpson Glacier, Sluffhead, and Dark Star as their backdrop.

Heading out to the zone we had decent weather to set up camp, and quickly welcomed our first guests of the season. With clear weather and stable snow holding for the first few days of operations we were able to open up many of our classic powder runs, check out a couple of new lines, and tap into the Danno’s spine wall.

Jeff Dostie drops in on another run of perfect Chugach powder

Jeff Dostie drops in on another run of perfect Chugach powder.

After a few stellar days the weather turned, and less than a week later 5+ new feet coated Tour Camp. Another storm followed along with our next round of guests. In between systems we snuck out a few solid days in pow town, traveled down the Simpson Glacier to enjoy some classic chute skiing, and out to the Rest Day Couloir before another massive low pressure dropped in for a multi day visit.

Avatech CEO Brint Markle gets walled in the Rest Day Couloir.

Avatech CEO Brint Markle gets walled in the “Rest Day Couloir”.

This next round of precipitation was warm. Several inches of rain fell at sea level, and we received 3+ feet at camp spread out over the week. Turns were kept close to camp until the sky cleared for a few hours of bluebird enjoyment before socking back in once again. March has been a stormy one in Southeast Alaska, but with such saturated snow the current weather impacting us is a welcome reset as it’s coming in sticky and forecasted to end cold. We’re looking forward to a new crew coming in to help us close out the season, and hoping for an Amazing April from Alaska to all points south. Enjoy these April snow days as the season is winding down, some of the best ski days are yet to come!

Sharing our Alaskan ski touring terrain with new guests never gets old, especially when we're standing on the top of perfect spines covered in perfect snow.

Sharing our Alaskan ski touring terrain with guests never gets old, especially when we’re standing on top of perfect spines covered in perfect snow.

A major thanks to Goal Zero for supporting Tour Camp this season! With their help we’ve been able to take care of most of our powering needs with one 100W panel, two batteries and a few lights. Also to Clif for fueling us and our guests with high quality energy food all season long!

Unofficial Networks State of the Backcountry Reports from the 2015-2016 ski season:

Antarctica, Ushuaia, and Tahoe (NOV)

Tahoe and the Eastern Sierra (DEC)

Tahoe and Nevada (JAN)

Tahoe and the Eastern Sierra (FEB)

State of the Backcountry” shares stoke through FacebookInstagram and on its homepage.

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