I spent a long weekend skiing in Thompson Pass with Todd, Peter and Amy. We stayed at Matt Kinney's awesome place (Thompson Pass Mountain Chalet). We had relatively decent weather and conditions and were able to ski every day.
We drove down on friday afternoon. On Saturday we headed out and skied Gully 1 with Matt. The skiing was decent but it was howling wind and around 0 so after one run we scurried back to the chalet to put on more layers and eat something hot. After lunch Todd headed back up to the pass to kite-ski while Peter, Amy and I headed own into Valdez to ski Benzene Alley. The skiing next to the water was quite spectacular but the snowmachiners were out in force and we were continually buzzed. Everyone was very nice (no one tried to run us over a-la Hatchers Pass) - but being around a dozen snowmachines buzzing downhill at 50 mph when you're out for an afternoon ski above the blue water is a downer.
Sunday our gang all tried to ski Dimond - however Matt's book is marked incorrectly (the correct milepost marker is 35.5 - not 36.5) so after thrashing around in the alders for a few hours we threw in the towel and headed back up to the pass for an existing skin track and easier turns. Again the snowmachiners were out in mass buzzing us at 40 mph but they left us alone. We skied two runs of blower powder on the lower flanks of Girls Mountain.
Monday dawned clear and cold so we all headed back up to the pass and pushed our way up high in clear conditions. We skied up the skin track we had climbed on Sunday and then pushed all the way up into the upper slopes of Girls, finally turning SW and heading up just below the summit of Girls into a bowl the locals call "Bravo Bowl." The ski conditions were abysmal - breakable crust with zero visibility. Of course we all voted Peter should ski down first (Peter being our designated route finder in flat light).
The run down was long and tough with breakable crust, wind swept slopes and pockets of powder. Finally we reached the lower flanks and opted to ski a run called "Bald Boy". We found good powder on the lower slopes and enjoyed some wonderful turns. However while Amy and I were waiting for Todd and Peter at the bottom, an avalanche was triggered sympathetically on a rollover above me and Amy. We heard the "Whooosh" of running snow, heard Todd scream "AVALANCHE!" and immediately turned and started skiing downhill to safety. Luckily the slide didn't go very far and gathered just below the rollover. We skied down carefully after that - and had a rather fun drop down a cliff section with waterfall ice to reach the base. Even though it was only 4pm we opted to cut the day short given that breakable crust, flat light and avalanches all added up to what I considered three strikes. Although condition were sub-optimal (as Peter described it) we had a nice long tour and great views - and didn't encounter a single snowmachiner or skier all day.
On our last day we stopped to ski Worthington Glacier as we were headed out of town. It was a beautiful bluebird day and on the glacier we were out of the wind and warm in the sun. We skinned up to the top of the run in about 1.5 hours and then had a wonderful run down in beautiful powder. The Worthington Glacier run is a great way to end a Valdez ski trip because you can get out and get in a 1000' of powder in a warm and wind free area; likewise the run terminated in a flat crevasse field so you're not tempted to go up higher and thus drive the 5 hours back in the dark!
On a final note... I've been the annual Valdez pilgrimage since 1996; however up until this year I always went primarily to ice climb in Keystone Canyon (with a little skiing thrown in); this was my first ski trip where my purpose was to ski. The skiing was excellent and the terrain world class - but I was a little alarmed at the motorized usage in the pass. Thompson Pass is the third most popular ski destination in Alaska (after Turnagain and Hatchers) - and the entire area is open to motorized use. In early February we encountered about 25 snowmachiners - from what I've heard March and April are crazy with dozens and dozens of snowmachiners plus heli skiers buzzing around everywhere (which is a reason I've never visited Valdez after early March). In the chalet journal an Anchorage visitor described seeing two skiers halfway up Gully 1 while a heli dropped a load off above them and 2 snowmachiners came up from below; this is unacceptable.
Snowmachiners have gotten more powerful and they're going where they've never one before and heli-skiers shouldn't be dropping skiers on runs that can be accessed by skiers with an hours climb. If Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley and the Kenai can set aside areas for non-motorized users - then other communities should follow their lead and push for non-motorized corridors as well. It is time an area was set aside for non-motorized users in Thompson Pass.
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