Sage Advice II
(Ed's note: Sage has been in-countryHaines, Alaskafor more than two weeks now. He filed this dispatch last week, replete with photos and footy.)
For the last few years I have been super-lucky to venture north in the spring and continue my winter adventure in Alaska. This year the plan was to head to Haines and meet up with the Teton Gravity Research film crew for a two-week session there. Then we would drive to the Girdwood area for a week, and finally we'd venture into the Tordrillo Mountains for a two-week stay at a remote lodge 70 miles into the bush. Seemed like a good idea with several great areas to ski and explore… but the mountains had other plans.
The Tordrillos sit in the southern portion of the Alaska Range, which is home to several large volcanoes including Mt. Spur and Mt. Redoubt. Redoubt started erupting during the end of March, spewing huge plumes of ash over 25,000 feet in the air. This closed down air traffic in the whole area and covered the mountains with a layer of ash. On top of the ash being a health hazard, it can wreak havoc on the snow pack. So, we initiated Plan B: Stay in Haines, which isn't a bad second choice since it's a true Alaskan heli-skiing Mecca.
There is a deep history of big mountain riding here that started when TGR first set foot in the area over ten years ago. They found huge mountains riddled with spines, flutes and pillows, and with easy access from several points along one of Alaska's few highways. Now, every year, top pros, hardcore guides, and eager clients make the pilgrimage from all over the world to post up for weeks in the hopes of getting a few good days.
Riding in Alaska is a unique experience as the snow creates formations that seem to be out of this world; huge pillows, spires, flutes and spines create an alien playground. The skylines are riddled with endless peaks, huge glaciers separate drainages, and distances are hard to gauge. With no visual references like trees or structures to evaluate size, it's easy to mistake a 2000-foot face for something much smaller. Cliff airs that appear to be 10-foot rocks turn into 40-foot drops. Only when the helicopter flies toward a face to drop off a friend do you finally get perspective of the size.
The posse is comprised of a world-class production crew from TGR; photographers Flip McCririck and Adam Clark; and athletes Seth Morrison, Tanner Hall, Dana Flahr, and myself. Several other riders have cycled through here already this year tooErik Roner, Ian McIntosh, and still photographer Mark Fisher just wrapped up the first leg of filming here.
I rolled into town early and had a string of bluebird days with them; the first window the crew had seen the whole trip. Plugging in with the group halfway through their session super-charged my re-immersion into the terrain, and we quickly stepped into big zones after a day of snow assessment.
The crew was on fire, charging fast with mad enthusiasm. Snow was deep, the deepest snow I've ever skied on AK's steep fluted terrain. Face shots were unavoidable. And, on top of the normal challenges, vision was spotty, so you were forced to plan waaaaay ahead.