Low tide in Valdez
Instead of maritime powder plastered to iconic peaks, Alaska's Chugach range has blue ice and rocks peppering steep descents, conditions that have local guides calling the 2011 Valdez spring one of the worst in 30 years. Due to the conditions, there were rumors that the World Extreme Skiing Championships, scheduled to be taking place this week in Valdez, would be canceled. As of Monday, WESC is currently on weather hold and slated to happen later this week.
Despite the atypical conditions, I joined an assortment of ski-industry figureheads in Valdez last week to test new Black Diamond skis with Alaska Backcountry Adventures. Long-time Valdez guides Dan Caruso and Dave "The Wave" Muccino of ABA greeted us with descriptions of Euro-style ski conditions. In other words, keep the shoulders facing downhill with tight, controlled turns as opposed to opening it up in big, juicy AK fashion. "It's shrapnel dust on a frozen ocean," Caruso said of the conditions.
Although the snow didn't allow for ideal testing of Black Diamond's new GigaWatt (a fatter version of the MegaWatt at 135 millimeters underfoot) or the new 115-mm-waisted Amp (a playful, rockered, all-mountain tool), we were still able to find a few soft patches mixed in with the variable snow.
With reports of weak low-pressure systems hopefully pushing their way into Prince William Sound and up the Valdez Arm, we elected to skin and ski near the fabled Berlin Wall in the shadow of the mighty Python peak. Despite the absence of any new snow, the wind picked up and actually allowed for improved conditions with more "shrapnel" dust blown in at certain spots. Nevertheless, it was a 4,000-foot AK descent down to the Thompson Pass highway.
The good news: It's currently snowing in Valdez and the storm is forecasted to continue for the next three days. Check back to ESPN Freeskiing for more updates from WESC and the hopefully improving snow conditions.