I booked this trip like I do most things, spur of the moment and a decisive click of the “confirm booking” button. In the few weeks leading up to the trip I “prepared" myself by watching lots of ski movies and YouTube videos of Alaska skiing….. big mistake. The closer I came to my travel dates and the more of these video’s I watched the more doubt that filled me about my skiing abilities and my fitness level. I had over 5 weeks on snow this year and countless hours in the gym with a trainer but this was Alaska!
The week leading up to my trip I became particularly anxious, I’m 43 years old with minimal big mountain experience what the heck was I thinking clicking that “confirm booking” button?? And how strange is it that I’m going by myself, nobody to cheer me on or for me to cheer on. It’s amazing how inspiring peer pressure can be, but I had to do this trip without it. Then other questions started popping in my head, am I going to be the only one there solo? Will I meet new friends or will I spend my time reading in my room? Will I have my own room or will I have to share with someone? If I share will it be a good guy or some dick? I haven’t felt these types of insecurities since I graduated from Jr. High! I felt like a teenager…hell ya I’m doing this! So I took more of an analytical look at the videos I had already watched the weeks before and before long I could see myself skiing each line.
April 3. 2015. Today is a big travel day to Anchorage. for entertainment on the plane I watch Warren Millers Flow State and I watch Mccokney. Starting to get stoked for this trip. It was a brutally long travel day with lots of connections, I was never so thankful to hit my pillow.
April 4, 2015 the last leg of the trip, finally going to Cordova. The airport lounge is filled with people carrying ski boots and swapping stories. I feel strange standing there with my boots and nobody to chat with. I’m seated next to two guys from Switzerland, Christian is actually from Iceland and Jonathan is from Washington originally. They are both headed to points north and Jonathon’s enthusiasm is infectious. He’s a tech guy with a new startup and it was great to chat business with someone as well.
We arrive at the Cordova “mud hole” airport and am greeted by no other than Chris Anthony!! I mean, I was just watching a movie with this guy in it the night before. Chris has been in Warren Miller films for 15years, he’s won the world Extreme ski competition multiple times. This shit just got real! First stop after the airport is the local liquor store. Our group invades this 500ft2 store like we were going to take it over. I grab a couple of 12 packs and a bottle of Patron, thinking I’m covering myself for the week. The guy’s behind me were a group of 3 with the same amount of booze in their cart, they asked me if I was thirsty..I answered I was Canadian, we all had a good laugh.
We arrive at base camp Orca which is a fish Cannery, it’s a hodge-podge of buildings on the water’s edge. Waivers are signed, equipment is handed out and then we go off to get our room assignments. I’m bunked with John, a firefighter from Denver who is here on his own to celebrate his 30th birthday. The room is spacious and we are lucky to have one with a balcony with a great view of the mountains and the water. John turns out to be a great guy, we are going to get along well.
We are greeted to an amazing first meal of fresh Alaskan Salmon, and it was amazing!! Kevin Quinn (Quinner) the owner spoke to the group during dinner. He mentioned that he often gets often gets asked by first timers “where’s the snow” He then explains that the snow filled peaks that we see when we stare across the water are act 2500’, which is the bottom of the Peaks that are in The Zone (the area we ski). That these peaks reach close to 8000’ After dinner on a couch next to a fellow that looks to be in his 50’s. Larry from Vail lets figures out that we are in the same group. I think, great..I’m with the old guy. Larry quickly start sizing me up. “where have you skied? What did you tell Quinner your looking for?? I’m here to ski the 50degree stuff so I hope our group is good” Turns out Larry is a former Level 3 ski examiner and actually has a ski run in Vail named after him! So, my group consist of Larry along with Jonathan and Christian from Switzerland who I met on the plane…what did I get myself into!!
April 5 - I woke up at 4:30, by 5:30 I decided to get up to call Val and start writing this blog. Cell service is very dodgy so unfortunately my call home was very short and difficult to hear. I went to the mess hall and I was the only one there for the first half hour. I then met Shamir. Shamir and I hit it off the minute he offered me a cup of his French press coffee that he brought! We started quickly chatting and Shamir is from Denver and has launched a few tech startups.
Big surprise today! We got to fly. It was a mad rush to get ready, my nerves were really getting the better of me. I will have to remember to bring Imodium from now on! I really managed to work myself up on this first flight, my group of Jonathan, Kristian and Larry were all expert skiers/boarders. I was really questioning myself on the flight, is my knee ok, my foot better? Was I going to be able to keep up with these guys or was I going to slow the group down. And then there was the question of the mountains themselves. I’ve dreamed since I was a kid reading Powder magazine issues with Glenn Plake and Scott Smit of skiing these 50 degree lines in AK, but now I’m here and I’m scared shitless! Our first landing was mellow, as was the run itself but somehow it seemed daunting to me. My breath rate was high and I felt like my chest was going to explode. I was hoping that my nerves would settle once I got this run under my belt but they didn’t! I think I became even more nervous for the second run, which turned out to be even a steeper entry followed by a traverse with death cookies and a double fall line turn which I fell on, I was embarrassed! I was the first guy down that section after Peter our guide and we laughed about my fall. We entered another a small chute with great snow at this point. I was really enjoying this run until I fell again! Not really a fall but I laid down on my side and got right back up in motion, I was really hoping nobody noticed because it happened so fast, I don’t want to get kicked out of this group! Of course, they noticed. Peter was nice enough to call me out on it while we were waiting for our pick up. I think that’s all I needed to settle my nerves. The next 2 bumps were much better, our last ride down the same run where I fell we chose a slightly different line with more steepness and more snow, I was getting face shots in waste deep powder created by Peter’s slough. This is what I came for!! Our first day which was supposed to be a down day turned out to be a fantastic surprise. The group grew close very fast, I now call these guys my friends. The comradery with all the groups is amazing. The energy back at camp was infectious as we all had drinks and swapped stories from the zone. Peter was excited about our groups capabilities and ensured us that we were going to be seeing some much bigger lines, that today was just a warmup. Unfortunately, Peter also told us that the next couple of days looked bad from a weather point of view. Peter was the lead avalanche dude and weather forecaster for the operation.
The next few days were down days. The good news was that the rain we were seeing meant new snow in the mountains. Cordova is a small town but there are many different things to do on down days. I joined a different group for a hike on our first down day. We hiked to McKinley lake which turned out to be a great hike 6-7-mile hike through a rainforest with some beautiful greenery. On the hike back I got into a great conversation with guide Paul. Paul is a young guy with an amazing take on life, he’s certainly wise for his young age and has really figured out what happiness is. I truly enjoyed our chat and we ended up extending our conversation over a glass of Scotch and dinner. Everyone here is amazing. It’s so fun to have a large group together who share similar passions.
It was pouring rain on the second down day. I’ve been keeping a positive attitude towards the weather, as much as I want to ski this isn’t bothering me because I’m truly enjoying my time here plus when we do get back out I know it will be epic! Pete tells us there is “several feet” of new powder in the zone!! Today we get to test the limited of our Gortex clothing! A visit to the Sheridan glacier with our Guide Pete proved to be a great day to spend a down day. The glacier was stunning, we hiked around and explored caves and worm-holes.
We stopped for at Baja Taco. An amazing taco stand located in an old bus right in Cordova. I capped off the afternoon with an hour and a half yoga session that was amazing.
I had packed out some glacier ice from our hike earlier in the day so we setup a happy hour before dinner where Peter treated us to some amazing Margaritas mixed with the glacier ice. After dinner the crowd was rowdier than usual, maybe cabin fever? Or maybe this thought that you can “drink it blue” There are many superstitions here, and the guides feel that whenever they drink heavy because of a bad forecast for the next day they are always surprised in the morning and have to ski hungover, so now they say “drink it blue” meaning drink until the sky’s turn blue. We certainly gave it our best effort! There were a couple of guy’s celebrating their birthday’s including Keoki Flagg, a world-famous action photographer, who was celebrating his 50th birthday. I haven’t mentioned Keoki yet, I spent some time with him one night going through one of his coffee table books and listening to him explain each shot as well as his philosophies on life. What an interesting guy, I really enjoyed listing to him. In fact, I spent an hour on my own reading through his book the next morning. The people here are amazing, there is a common thread amongst the attitudes of most and our yoga instructor summed it up, she said look where you are, if your here in Cordova you are one of the luckiest people in the world, we are truly fortunate. These down days really forced me to reflect on how lucky I am, I have my health, amazing kids, a wife who I adore and who adores me and the ability to experience these things. I’m truly loving life right now.
The skiers who are camping in the mountain tell are reporting up to 6’ of new snow in some places. Patience, the mountain was resetting itself for us. We went to the Reluctant Inn for drinks and dinner. There were a few groups from Points North there and things got crazy fast. The fist “ring of the bell” had the “ringer” buy shots for the whole bar, this continued through the night. We had amazing an amazing feast that started with black cod sushi shared with fisherman Brian who caught it that day. It was interesting to listen to his stories of fishing these waters for over 30 years. We moved on to the main course of Alaskan King Crab! It was amazing. We laughed, drank and played pool for hours. A few guys decided to ride on the roof of the van back to the lodge, before even leaving the parking lot I noticed a suspicious vehicle sitting with its lights on, I got out of the passenger seat to see if it was the police and sure enough it was one of the towns 2 police officers! The officer pulled up to me and said, “those boys aren’t going to ride on the roof are they?” and I said no officer as those clowns tumbled off and into the van! Back at the lodge I had a full-contact game of fosse ball with guide Tito, who I met earlier in the evening and listened to his stories of guiding in the Himalaya mountains, He’s guiding a trip to Everest this up-coming season.
“Hey, let’s go shoot some shit, it’s Alaska after all” One of the mechanics took a group of us to a gun range, but not before stopping at the grocery store to buy some melons and propane tanks. Yup, there is no better way to blow off steam than to blow shit up!
In the last day, we woke up to bluebird skies, and what ultimately turned out to be the best ski day of my life. It’s unreal how fast the mood can change when the weather is good. There was a bit of a frenzied pace to the morning, people were packing and getting ready to fly into the zone where over 10’ of fresh powder waited for us in the Chugach Mountains. This is why we came to Alaska; the mountains didn’t disappoint. Steep and Deep lines around every corner. You couldn’t rip the smiles off our faces that day. We pushed the limits until 3pm, which set off another mad frenzy to catch our 5pm flights. One guest summed it up best, Alaska skiing is a place of deep lows and ultra-highs. Heli Skiing with Points North Heli was everything I dreamt it would be I can’t wait to go back.