Surviving winter in Alaska is not for the weak. Months of darkness, polar temperatures, cloudy skies and rain. Stateside friends ask “Does the sun ever come up?” Well that depends on where in Alaska you’re talking about. The Arctic Circle is the southern extremity of the polar night, meaning the sun never rises on one day of the year. I live in Anchorage—along with 42% of the state’s population—564 miles south of the Arctic Circle, so the sun climbs above the horizon for about five hours on the winter solstice. The sun does a lazy arc just above the horizon creating twilight all day. We loose our sunglasses in October and find them in March.
In winter, my wife and I often vacate Alaska for South America to climb rocks and soak in the sun. This year we’re going to France and Italy, but not until February. I was dreading the midwinter months, but Alaska is all about surprises.
After Christmas, Cathy I made the six-hour drive to Valdez in the Chugach Mountains to ski at Thompson Pass. Valdez is the snowiest city in the US, so we crossed our fingers for clear skies. We got lucky. We then drove straight back through Anchorage to the Kenai Mountains and spent New Years with friends at the Crescent Saddle Cabin. We got even more lucky. Oh Alaska!
Max Kaufman, a long-time friend from Fairbanks, skiing in twilight from the summit of Girls Mountain, Thompson Pass, Chugach Mountains, Alaska.
Najeeby Quinn soaking in the midwinter sun above Crescent Saddle. She is squinting a bit, although the sun has zero warmth.
I’m spotting Jeff Conaway with his Osprey Aether 70 from the safety of a rock overhang as he skis a chute below a dangling cornice. As we prepared to drop in, a bus-sized portion of the cornice snapped off and thundered down the chute. So much for the powder, but at least we know it’s stable!
Crescent Saddle Cabin in the Kenai Mountains during the New Years Eve blue moon. Here Andy Newton and I are heading out to shoot skeet on Crescent Lake. The wailing and cracking lake ice was creeeeeeepy!!!!! See more photos at: http://www.stockalpine.com/posts/2010/1/4/crescent-saddle-cabin.html
Osprey brand team ambassador Joey Thompson recently returned from an avalanche education course and ski touring in and around Valdez, Alaska. Joey took part in the The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education’s (AIARE) level 1 avalanche instructor training course. AIARE is a non-profit organization whose goal is to “provide avalanche instructors with the tools to educate students about the knowledge and decision making skills necessary to travel in avalanche terrain.” With a pedigree in the outdoors to rival even the most experienced mountaineers, Joey is the perfect guy to test Osprey gear in the backcountry. He came to Alaska equipped with an Osprey Variant 37 and had this to say about the training:
The Variant 37 is the perfect size to carry all that I needed. For light touring days I was able to get by with a bit less. When on the avi course I was able to load a bit more. What I really liked for the touring days was the crampon pouch, I stored my skins in the pouch to cut down on transition time. I also liked the finger zippers to get in and out of the lids where I stored goggles and snacks. The ski carrying capabilities were another big benefit easy on easy off with good weight distribution. AIARE put on a level 1 instructor course for people like me to be able to provide high level education to outdoor minded people. It is a course that has taught me to better relate to my students and relay the information to them in a more recycled/refined way. The avalanche course is wrapped around decision making skills in the backcountry going from the ground up and then managing from the top down. We provide a decision making framework, field observations check list, tour planning and preparation that is to be used by the student. We start every morning in the classroom and finish the afternoon in the field. The “field” included the rugged terrain of Valdez, AK. Situated at the head of a deep, stillwater fjord in the northeast section of Prince William Sound, Valdez is surrounded by the Chugach Mountains. They are the most heavily glaciated mountains in the Northwest. Our training and skiing was around 27 Mile Glacier and The Odyssey on Thompson Pass up the road from Valdez. This is where the majority of the skiing happens in Valdez. I also skied Sugarloaf Mountain. As a town, Valdez is remote. Being from Colorado, I thought that some of our small towns were remote, but Valdez is on a whole other level. With a town size of full time residences at 4800 people and with one small grocery store this makes a perfect escape of all the hustle and bustle of the lower 48. Valdez is the northernmost ice-free port in North America and the town covers 274 square miles. I met a couple of guides from from Valdez Heli-Ski Guides who were also in my training class and while I’d love to try it one day, my skiing on this trip consisted of skinning up the mountain and then skiing down, by my own devices. The price of these heli tours is $1000/day based on how many feet down the clients want to ride or ski. The guides are really hard working and show their clients a great time.
Another member of the all-new Osprey Brand Team is Erie, Colorado resident Joe Thompson. Besides being ski patrol at Boulder’s local hill Eldora and an AMGA Certified Rock Guide, Joe is currently enrolled (and on site) in an instructor’s course with AIARE in Valdez, Alaska where we armed him with an orange, Variant 37 pack to assist with his training.
Joe has been checking in with us via Blackberry texts and he was able to send us a nice photo of an iced-over ‘Bridal Veil’ near his group’s base camp. Stay tuned for more from Joe as we get information about how he has put his Variant to the test… So far we know Joe was stoked that despite the Variant’s large carrying capacity and size (the Medium Variant’s specs: 2250 cu. in., 37 liters, and 3 lbs 8 oz.) he was able to successfully stow the pack under his seat on the puddle jumper to Valdez. If that ain’t success for a guy carrying oodles of gear to Alaska, I don’t know what is. Check back soon for a full update from Joey T!