Alaska Ski Mountaineering Week in Valdez
Ah-laska! Spring in the Chugach is incredible with powder in the shade and corn in the sun. The Thompson Pass area outside of Valdez features a unique mix of opportunity for roadside touring and heli-accessed ski mountaineering. The road gives us maximum flexibility to find the goods and optimize the tour. Helicopters allow us to bump up to peaks to get a head start on the days tour. Late April and early May are known for stable weather and great touring in this area. If you are ready to log major vertical, ski steep terrain in great conditions, and get your glaciated ski mountaineering game on, then this is your next big trip! This trip features 6 days of skiing, lodging, opportunities for helicopter lifts when possible, and transportation within the greater Valdez area.
Alaska Ski Mountaineering Week in Valdez
When visionary ski athlete, IFMGA guide, and mountain entrepreneur Doug Coombs discovered the Chugach around Valdez in the early 90’s he proceeded to open minds to the ultimate untapped ski paradise. The Chugach Range gets plenty of snow straight from wet storms fed by the Aleutian Low that march across the Gulf of Alaska. High latitudes keep the climate cold and the solar radiation minimal in the winter months. This all combines to produce a unique and user friendly snow climate. Snow is able to stick to incredibly steep slopes, then in between storms the surface faceting process dominates. This is where the term “steep and deep” was born. Only in a snow climate similar to what is found in coastal Alaska can such deep powder persist on such steep slopes. The winter snow conditions increase the difficulty of trail breaking. The mobility of modern helicopters were the clear solution and led to the birth of the now legendary Alaskan heliski industry. In mid-April the heliski season begins to wind down. Snowlines rise and ease of access to terrain by helicopter is more limited. This is when ski mountaineering season begins.
In 2001, veteran IFMGA Mountain Guide Bela Vadasz and some other AMGA instructors had the idea to move AMGA guide training & certification programs over to Valdez from the Anchorage area. I was invited to join as a developing instructor at the time. Doug Coombs showed us around and we had an amazing and mind blowing experience. We realized on that program that the spring is actually the best time to be there for touring and ski mountaineering. There is winter powder on the shaded slopes and spring corn on the sunny ones. The weather and snowpack stabilize as the winter melts away, and the temperatures are similar to the High Sierra in early spring. The travel to higher elevations is relatively easy in the morning when the surface is frozen solid and the nature of the terrain made it surprisingly easy to climb thousands of feet per hour with relatively low effort. The peaks and glaciers feel wild yet are easily accessible from the Thompson Pass road. Plus, the heliski companies are amenable that time of year to giving us an early morning lift or two. I did 10 trips to Valdez after my first trip in 2001 and in over 100 days of skiing over that period in late April we enjoyed mostly incredible, “hero” snow conditions, with very few challenging moments, and only a bare handful of storm or whiteout days. The AMGA continues to run ski mountaineering guide training programs in Valdez and it has become one of the most desirable spring ski mountaineering destinations in North America. If you prefer human-powered ski mountaineering but don’t mind a small taste of the power of the heli, this is definitely an iconic ski trip to add to your bucket list. ~ Howie Schwartz
TRIP ITINERARY: Valdez Ski Mountaineering Week
DAY 0Arrive in Valdez. Enjoy dinner and a celebration of our upcoming week of skiing.
DAYS 1-6Ski what we want, when we want. The plan is to maximize vertical, aesthetics, and snow quality. Conditions and energy levels will dictate when and where we go each day. The guide will coordinate 1 or 2 hell bumps with a local operator, at the group's discretion and as weather and logistics allow. It is possible to arrange to leave Valdez on the evening of the 6th ski day. or feel free to stay another night and celebrate a great week with us.
DAY 7If you don't leave on Day 6 then Day 7 is a travel day toward home or wherever the next destination may be.
Recommended Skills and AbilitiesThis program is designed for competent and experienced backcountry skiers with at least an interest in learning the ways of ski mountaineering. It is important to have the following:
- Advanced-expert downhill skiing skills
- Ability to control speed and execute fall-line turns in control and comfort in difficult snow conditions (deep powder, heavy and/or moist snow, breakable crust, firm or icy, etc.)
- Ability to execute hop turns on 40 degree+, firm slopes, coming to a complete and immediate stop at the finish of each turn
- Ability to sideslip forward and backward, with edge control, on steep, firm slopes
- Experience ski touring in the backcountry using ski touring equipment (boots, bindings, skins, transceiver, shovel, probe, etc.)
- Ability to make uphill facing kick-turns in an uphill track on a slope
- Excellent fitness
- UIAGM or AMGA certified Ski Guide(s)
- All lodging in Valdez during the trip
- Breakfasts included
- All ground transportation during the trip
- Travel to/from Valdez
- Food or drink in towns
- Snacks during the day
- Trip Insurance (recommended)
- Mountain Rescue Insurance (recommended)
- Helicopter lifts are not included due to the unpredictability of weather and logistics. Expect to pay around $250 for each lift as an additional cost. We will aim for 1-2 hell bumps during the week.