As the ski season winds down in the Elk Mountains of Colorado, and Spring makes it’s arrival on the calendar, so lies the time for the annual pilgrimage to a special and favorite ski destination of mine….the Chugach Mountains of Alaska’s Thompson Pass.
This year’s trip, run for Irwin Guides, marked my 8th consecutive Spring of ski guiding in this wondrous and vast mountainous and glaciated terrain that holds such a unique place in the hearts and minds of backcountry ski and ski mountaineering aficionados from around the world.
Alaska’s mountains are big. The terrain is big, the scale hard to gauge and comprehend, and the snow is incredible….smooth, consistent, and reliably good. This year was no different, and in the end, it was unfortunate that only 1 week and 1 trip was spent here in this mecca, where a lifetime of ski lines awaits.
Although all of the West was plagued with a below average winter, Alaska included, upon arrival we were met with 3 days of bad weather and zero visibility to begin our trip. However, rain in clouds in the town of Valdez, only meant snow and more clouds up high on Thompson Pass, so we did our best to keep the stoke and inspiration high while the weather challenged us physically and our motivation.
However, the beauty of human-powered ski touring in this vast land, is that even in bad weather, we still have the ability to get outside and make some turns, and despite the whiteout conditions, the snow was good, and we were still able to log days with a few thousand feet of vertical, got in good powder skiing, and spent some of the time learning and practicing important skills for this terrain, such as crevasse rescue scenarios and whiteout navigation.
And, as always seems to happen in all my trips to Alaska, by the end of the week, the weather began to break, the sun came out, and we were greeted with hundreds of thousands of acres of vast Alaskan wilderness, peaks, and glaciers all coated with a fresh blanket of 2.5 feet of new snow!
As is always the case in this place…..the beauty of the surrounding landscape and the incredible ski quality of the snow and inspiring terrain all around, more then made up for the dreary, cloudy, wet days with no sights to be had….and all was worth it again in the end, as it always is, has been, and will continue to be in the future.
So as I wait to board a cross-country / trans-Atlantic flight from Anchorage all the way to Geneva, Switzerland and onto my next ski guiding objective in the European Alps, my tired legs, sunburned face, and still wind-rustled hair are here to remind me that just a mere few ours ago, I was standing amidst some of the greatest ski mountaineering terrain on Earth, covered with some of the best and most consistently good skiing, snow on Earth, and that I got to share in that magic of the experience with some wonderful people….stoking the fire within me again until my inevitable return next season, a pattern that has played out in my life over the past 8 years that I have come to expect and cherish, and am now watching take shape and form in the wide eyes and big smiles of the clients that I got to share the experience with this year as well.
Their eyes and expressions at the end of that last day of 7,000’ of perfect powder skiing says it all……they’ll be back again, as will I.
— Jayson Simons-Jones (IFMGA Mountain Guide)