In the previous edition I left off after a gargantuan storm dropped close to 11 feet of new snow on our camp. That was our first 10 days at PNH Tour Camp this season. The following photos wrap-up the final three weeks of more good people, a few amazing lines and some of the best snow on the planet.
After the 11 footer camp was pretty buried as you can see in the above shot. It actually got deeper, but thankfully after patiently waiting for a hole in the weather our Week 2 crew with clients representing Tahoe, Virginia, Sweden and Australia made it to camp.
The crew had barely been at camp a few minutes, but with a heli drop, blue skies and a clearing trend we went right out to test the snow. The 11 feet had mostly settled and consolidated. However, 18+ inches of perfect Chugach blower fell by the time we had flown out with our Week 1 group and come back with our Week 2 crew. Here John Blankenstein leads the pack to the ridge where assessing snow stability was paramount before any of us could ride.
We took it slow and ramped up in terms of the pitch we felt comfortable skiing, but the next couple of laps were some of the highest quality snow I’ve ever skied. John’s mate from Australia, Michael Smith, is seen here leaving a nice thick trail after another unreal turn. The snow was as perfect as one could ask for immediately following such a large precipitation event. You could go as fast you possibly wanted, and then just flinch a little deeper into your next turn to enter the deepest of deep white rooms. We were all fired up to say the least!
The runs we knocked off on this day were our go-to powder shots of a couple thousand vertical feet down to the Simpson Glacier. You can see a few of the crew members waiting below and right as our skin track heads back up the glacier to the left leading to the top of another lap.
Our Week 2 crew was stellar. Skip, Steve, Justin, Lars, Tracey, John and Mike were a pleasure to tour with. Here the crew picks their way down a ridge as we contemplate what line to ride back to camp, which is in the lower right corner of the photo.
The end of the week came fast, and just like that a whole new crew from Canada showed up chomping at the bit to get after it. This group booked almost a year in advance and they absolutely scored the coveted Alaskan powder lottery. The crew was a colorful one and were lucky to be able to get as much out of the terrain we have access to as possible. Everyday these boys were out they experienced the Chugach dream-stable, clear and bottomless AK conditions. The snow was “the snow” we all dream about.
Our first day we toured around warming up on long perfect powder runs before ending the day tracking up one of our favorite peaks in the zone, “Sluffhead”. The peak gets it’s name from the the constant sluff that spills off the north aspects of the peak after every turn that’s made, every time we ski it. All aspects of this peak can be skied and are quality, but the “Sickle”, show here, is one of the more fun options to take. It involves a bit of technicality being that the upper ramp is close to 60 degrees, there’s exposure to skiers right at the top and skiers left at the bottom, and there are always a few hidden sharky rocks waiting to bite you. If you can link it up right, avoiding your sluff and the short cruxy sections, the steepness combined with such deep, cold snow is tough to beat.
The Canadians got after it all week and since they were all friends we were able to ski together most of the time. In this shot Remi, Hamlin, AJ, Tim, Aiden, Mike, Arch and Andre head up after another lap of Chugach perfection.
“Shakedown St.” is one of our favorites, and these boys certainly tore it up by the time we got them out there. That said, the great part about the link-up on this day was heading over to the “Tweezer” area with a short skin from the base of “Shakedown St.”
Last year we broke in a beautiful new couloir that was dubbed “Tweezer”. The line was climbed first, then skied. During the ascent I remember looking up to climber’s right and seeing another couloir that looked just as fun, if not longer and a little trickier to get into than what we were climbing and planning to ski at the time. While “Tweezer” has an entrance that can only be rappelled into or accessed by climbing it from below, this new line was skiable from the top. A few touchy turns, a few technical moves to get into the gut-shown in the above photo by Andre and Wesley Thompson-and we were able to ski this first descent with our whole crew in absolutely killer powder conditions.
Looking back up at the zone “Tweezer” is looker’s left, “This Ain’t Kansas” named by the Canadians is middle and right, and “Tweezer Reprise”-a steeper way to finish either couloir from the top, is lined by rock to the far looker’s right.
The crew was super fired up after the day and the trend continued through the week. We enjoyed perfect conditions by day and relaxing evenings with tasty food by Chef Dostie, aka “Chefstie”, by night. By week’s end the stoke factor was through the roof. Another highlight for the Week 3 group, and the season as a whole, was getting a session on the “Danno’s” spine wall. It’s insane that we can tour to this area from our camp-it just needs the right combination of ingredients to line up for a solid push.
Our session was as much as we could ask for showcasing some of the best snow possible, on some of the sickest terrain imaginable. Here’s Danno’s as seen on the approach by skins.
This is a POV from our boy Wesley Thompson. He took a pretty rad line during this session making is very clear why many know him as “Wes-Slay Stomp-son” in the quaint town of Cordova.
A few more tracks from the session.
By the end of Week 3 it was beyond clear that the Canadians had completely nailed it, and for Tour Camp we were about to get nailed again. Just as the Week 3 crew took off another powerful storm came in and dropped several more feet. Unfortunately this delayed our Week 4 crew for a bit while Wesley and I basically shoveled, shoveled and shoveled some more. Thankfully “Home Knoll” helped us keep our sanity with a few triple-overhead face shots in between shoveling sessions as when all was said and done, from Match 22nd until April 11th we recorded 236 inches at Home Base. It was an amazing amount of snow to live through while situated on the side of a peak in the great Chugach Range.
Add in some wind to spice things up and our last week was a little rough until we finally linked up with our Week 4 crew, ripped into some powder and remembered why it’s always worth the wait. Maura Mack is throwing a nice spray in the above shot where the whole crew-Susan, Rob, Taylor, Shawn, Nate and Jeff- were able to leave some beautiful tracks in the zone.
On this day several of us skied back to camp during the magic hour when sunset seems to go on forever. I think we pulled into camp just past 9 p.m. on this day. The color and shadows gain contrast and vibrancy with each passing minute when you’re out skiing at this hour, but when the sun finally dips and temperatures drop Home Base is calling.
With a few more powder turns and days in the field we bid our Week 4 crew goodbye, packed up camp, and just like that the season was over. We had a little bit of everything over our time in the field this season and I know I speak for Jeff and Wesley when I say the PNH Tour Camp crew couldn’t be happier with the results from our season. Thanks to everyone that made it up to hang with us and of course our PNH crew at base that provides such unlimited support. We’re already looking forward to next season, and hope a few of you can make it up for a visit next year to experience the Chugach with us in such a unique way.
“State of the Backcountry” is sponsored by Alpenglow Sports. Established in 1979, Alpenglow Sports is Tahoe City’s original mountain shop. Specializing in backcountry and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, trail running, backpacking, hiking, camping, and the mountain lifestyle apparel, Alpenglow is always psyched to offer premier user-based customer service.
Logo created by Mountain Town Media
Previous “State of the Tahoe Backcountry” Reports from the 2012-2013 season: