Three years ago I tried to start a tradition of avoiding the Super Bowl and all its commercialism and eating of way too much shitty food and beer by going skiing. Last year, I had a recently reconstructed ACL and wasn't able to do much of anything so, I watched the Super Bowl. Anyway, this year, my ACL is again useable and I can ski. So, we went skiing.
We awoke to foggy skies. Anchorage was socked in. That's not inspiring. Backcountry skiing in flat light? Yuck. So we checked the avalanche forecast and weather for Turnagain Pass. Moderate avalanche danger and blue skies. Well, it doesn't get a lot better than that in the Pass! So, we made some awesome breakfast burritos (a house specialty; we make bomb burritos), packed up the rest of our shit, stopped for a $2.50 coffee special at the closest sugar shack, and were on our way.
The first part of the drive was foggy. As promised by the weather forecast, the fog quickly gave way to blue skies. Turnagain Arm was shining in all of its sunny glory. We cruised past Eddie's and Tin Can before reaching the pullout for Sunburst/Magnum. I found a spot in the busy parking lot and we started getting ready. I walked around to the back to open the tailgate and get the skis out... only to find the tailgate down. Well, shit. Lindsay left it down for me when she saw me walking to the truck with a handful of gear that I decided to put in the cab of the truck. Oops. Luckily, nothing fell out. All skies and poles were accounted for and the day went on. Lesson learned. Check the tailgate when multiple people are loading the truck.
We clicked into our skies and started up. My knee started screaming almost right away. I seem to have some lingering side effects from the afore mentioned ACL injury. I lagged behind and became a little frustrated with myself. I stopped to admire the hoarfrost growing on some of the alders still poking through the snow. Lindsay stopped and said some encouraging words. After about half an hour, my knee finally surrendered to its fate for the day and felt a little better.
We skinned up past treeline, past an Avy 1 class learning the joys of digging snow pits, and on to the ridge. Lindsay stopped and expressed her thoughts on the cornice ridge skin track. We elected to make our own path around the unknown wind loading. As we approached the top, we saw fewer and few people. We had seen several parties from the parking lot making their way to the top. Now, there was one party below us, and no one else in sight. I guess some of the ski crowd headed in to watch the super bowl.
We reached our stopping point for the day and took a break. I decided to dig a snow pit just for fun. The persistent slab problem the Avalanche Forecast has been talking about all season was readily apparent. There was a completely rotten layer of sugar snow near the base. Luckily, conditions were such that the chances of triggering it were pretty low.
Having the mountain to ourselves was incredibly peaceful. While backcountry skiing gets us away from the resort crowds, on any given day the easier to access zones in Turnagain Pass have a few dozen skiers and snowboarders. We took in this rare moment of isolation. I attempted to show off my deep understanding of the serenity by trying to define what "peace" is to me. Something along the lines of "Peace is being completely content with the moment you are in. You are where you want to be, when you want to be, doing what you want to be doing, with who you want to be doing it with. The moment is complete and perfect and there is nothing you would change if you could." I guess in other words, peace for me is when what I day dream about at work actually comes true.
After enjoying our moment of peace, we switched to ski mode, took some pictures, and headed down. The snow was fantastic. Not super deep, but it rode very smooth. We gracefully descended to near treeline. We still had plenty of daylight and my knee had quit its persistent complaining so I suggested we go part way up for another lap. We headed up a ways until the sun started to dip below the horizon. As we skied toward the parking lot, the sunset graced us with its beautiful colors. The sunset skiing is really nice. We should try to time it like this more often.
I was pleasantly surprised by the ski back to the car. In the few years I have been backcountry skiing, Alaska has had some dismal snow years. The last 10 minutes back to the car below treeline is usually a sketchy run down the minimally snow covered skin track. If you don't catch your ski on a rock, it is a good day. If your face does not get assaulted by alders, again it is a good day. This year is a good snow year. I was shocked to find skiiable terrain where there are usually alders. We enjoyed a wide open, rock and alder free ski all the way back to the parking lot.
We clicked out of our boots as the sunlight was fading. We decided to stop at the local burger joint for a post ski beer and burger. Lucky us, we caught the last minute of the Super Bowl on the screens at the bar. Mission avoid the Super Bowl was 95% successful.