I recently had the privilege and pleasure to have a sit down with one of the most prominent riders living in and shredding the Chugach today, Keree Smith.
snowbizgadfly: Morning Keree, how about we start with a few words on you background in skiing? Where’d you come from and what path did you take to get to today?
Smith: I grew up in Government Camp, Oregon where my winters were filled with skiing and ski racing and summer was working at Timberline. My introduction to ski touring started after a massive knee injury that involved tearing both ACL’s, among other cartilage and ligaments, and required 6 surgeries. After that, I pretty fully took to backcountry skiing and guiding, working in Svalbard, Iceland and Alaska. A major accomplishment was earning my Private Pilot’s License and buying into a ski-plane this winter. I am now proud to call Alaska home, where I live in my hand-built cabin next to an airstrip I can fly and ski from.
snowbizgadfly: What originally brought you to Alaska?
Smith: I initially came to Alaska when I was 18 years old for a rowdy competition called “Arctic Man”. I was at the end of my ski racing career and looking for a different avenue to explore skiing. I heard from an old timer about a competition where a skier gets pulled behind a sled (snow machine) at 70 mph+ before being launched off of a steep rollover for a downhill section. The course totaled just over 5 miles with average times under 5 minutes, all groomed for one week in the middle of nowhere for one huge sled-neck party. It was nuts. The experience completely sold me on Alaska.
snowbizgadfly: What made you decide to buy property in the Chugach?
Smith: I first visited Valdez on a fishing boat in August. I had just worked my first season commercial salmon fishing in Bristol Bay and decided to hop on a tender (larger boat). On that boat I sailed partially around the Aleutians, down to Seattle and back up to Nome. We stopped in Valdez and the family who ran the boat just happened to be pilots. The son took the other deckhands and I up for a sunset flight, up into the Chugach and down the Columbia glacier. I think that’s when I fell in love with the Chugach- Richardson Highway corridor specifically. I bought property, ‘Site Unseen’ at 69 mile on the Richardson later that fall.
snowbizgadfly: What is your favorite thing about the local ski community?
Smith: I love how everyone who lives here, specifically in the Richardson corridor, has really made a home in the mountains. Many of us bought and developed our own properties, choosing to live slightly alternative lives with less amenities and increased self and community sustainability. I find my neighbors incredibly capable and I grow increasingly aware that everyone has an inspiring life story.
snowbizgadfly: What does a perfect day of riding in the Chugach look like?
Smith: Flying out of the local ski strip on a brisk March morning with one or two others, then floating around the mountains and glacier valleys looking for an untouched zone. Touring for a run or so out of a vast and vacant glaciated valley. Then, dipping back and forth in the plane through the alpine-glow pressing against Alaska’s peaks during sunset, to return home for grilled caribou and red wine.
snowbizgadfly: I’m sure you’ve had your share of miss-adventures and type-2 fun, do you have any words of wisdom to share on the topic?
Smith: Ha. Yes. Many of which are too long for a short article. But let’s just say that unexpected overnights on glaciers should be expected.
snowbizgadfly: What advice do have for anyone wanting to plan and have their own ski adventure in Thompson Pass/ Chugach?
Smith: Ski plane. Don’t get me wrong, going up for a day of heli-skiing is mind-blowing. Make to sure get three other buddies to fill the chopper. That way you have a better chance of skiing the terrain you want, rather than possibly being limited by getting grouped with skiers at a different ability level. But setting up base-camp in a remote zone to tour from a week or so is a real Alaskan experience in my mind. Tok Air Service provides lifts around the Chugach from Thompson Pass.
snowbizgadfly: Any final thoughts or shout-outs?
Smith: I can’t thank 4FRNT Skis enough for all their support. Shout out to my Iceland family. I developed most of my backcountry/ guiding skills with companies like Borea Adventures and The Empire Productions, alongside my favorite ski partner, Camilla Edwards. Thanks to Black Ops Valdez for giving me the chance to heli-ski guide this spring. I am grateful for my awesome neighbors and community and much love to Peter Biskind for learning how to ski-fly with me.
Check out Keree’s Instagram @keree.smith