Skiing World Class Thompson Pass

Above: Mt. Diamond backdrops Eli Sturm as he skies down a couloir in Thompson Pass, where the scenery and snow are world class. 

The 2,805 foot Thompson Pass pass is outside the coastal town of Valdez, and averages more than 550 inches of snow per year. Skiers and snowboarders travel from all over the world to make turns in Thompson. Copious runs are accessible right off the road, while endless mountains provide the potential for extended excursions. 

My friend Eli and myself made the six hour drive south from Fairbanks last Saturday for two very full days of riding. We mostly used climbing skins — directional skins you attach to the bottom of your skies to ascend mountains.

On the first day we skinned about 4.5 hours, climbing roughly 4,000 feet, to the top of a couloir, a steep narrow gully on a mountain. The result was some of the best and most scenic riding of my life. 

Descending towards Diamond Glacier in Thompson Pass with spectacular snow.

Descending towards Diamond Glacier in Thompson Pass with spectacular snow.

A skier traverses towards shade on the Diamond Glacier in Thompson Pass.

A skier traverses towards shade on the Diamond Glacier in Thompson Pass.

Amazing Whistler and Blackcomb

Stunning scenery, helicopter-like views and spectacular snowboarding on sometimes treacherous terrain are just a few of the experiences I was fortunate enough to have in Whistler, British Columbia. Whistler and Blackcomb are two mountains in the town of Whistler, where the 2010 Winter Olympics were held. It is one of the premier skiing destinations in the world, with good reason. 

Thanks to the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which features the worlds longest unsupported span, almost two miles, and the worlds tallest lift at 1,427 feet, Whistler and Blackcomb are the worlds largest continuous lift system. The amount of accessible terrain is insane. 

Snowboarding in Whistler is an experience I will never forget, and hope to have again soon. 

Note: These were all shot with my iPhone, I have GoPro media I hope to edit soon, but realistically may not.

 

Beginning of Ski Season – Weekly Photo Challenge

Above: A quiet and foggy beginning to the 2013-2014 season at Skiland. December 7, 2013 at 10:12 a.m.

December 7, 2013, marked the start of the downhill season at Skiland – the farthest-north chairlift in North America. Opening day is often a mad dash; wake up after a party; corral people, some gear, and grub; then try to get there for first run at 10 a.m., because last run comes quick at 2:30 p.m.

This year was relaxed, waxed boards the night before and went to bed at a reasonable time. The next day lots of clouds made visibility difficult, but unseasonably warm temperatures – over 10 degrees fahrenheit – complemented  a snowpack that hide reasonable numbers of rocks! 

Not much lifts the spirits in dark and typically cold December then an early opening at the downhill. Here’s a few examples of rapidly-changing light from the chairlift. 

Litte Daylight, Cold Temperatures, A Long Ski.

Above: At 10:28 a.m. the sun has yet to rise above tree line, snow can be seen blowing off peaks in the Alaska Range. Elliott Highway, 37 miles north of Fairbanks. 

It was an… ambitious adventure. Nordic ski 14 miles into Colorado Creek Cabin, in White Mountains National Recreation Area, starting about 55 miles north of Fairbanks. Distance wasn’t the issue. The problem at hand was twofold: temperatures around -35 degrees fahrenheit, and less then 5 hours of daylight. Stopping more then 2 or 3 minutes meant quickly becoming chilled, and wasting precious daylight. 

It’s fascinating to review the time-of-day pictures were shot, tracing the sun path.

At exactly noon, the sun is already hidden behind some trees, with a frozen lake in the foreground.

At exactly noon the sun is already hidden behind trees, with a frozen pond in the foreground.

At 12:16 p.m. some of the only direct sunlight to be had.

At 12:16 p.m. some of the only direct sunlight to be had.

Nick pauses partway into a long uphill on a cold cross-country ski.

Nick pauses partway into a long uphill on a cold cross-country ski.

Sporting thick  fur mittens and hauling a moose skull, the only person we encountered on the 6-hour ski said “you have a ways to go.” Taken 2:21p.m., Nov. 30, 2013.

By the time darkness really took hold Nick and I had just slogged up the final ascent. I was far too exhausted to stop and fumble with my camera, and risk chilling off again.

When not sleeping or eating the cabin was a blast, but the next day brought another 14-mile ski back. Luckily the return was all downhill. 

Even two weeks later, as my blisters and frostbite continue to heal I wonder why we thought it would be a good idea. It really comes down to mind over matter, living in Alaska requires perseverance and toughness. Sometimes a little personal reminder is necessary. 

May Skiing and a Dog

I received a comment from a viewer that there’s overlapping issues when they view my site on Internet Explorer, has anyone else witnessed this or anything similar?

Over the next few days I’ll be featuring some of my favorite images from skiing and snowboarding last winter.

There has been a few good opportunities to snowboard this May, both at Skiland and backcountry. A group of friends and myself took a trip to a local south-facing slope and did a little hiking. What I really like about this series of two pictures: they’re two photos of only eight I took, one frame after the other. It’s just a good feeling, not shooting heavy, but getting a few strong images.  I like the first photo because of the scale, two small hikers and an expansive horizon. The three main elements and the triangular composition of the second picture are simple, but pleasing to the eye.

Russle Walker, foreground, and Nick Konefal work back up the hill, May 9, 2013.

Russle Walker, foreground, and Nick Konefal work back up the hill, May 9, 2013.

A dog watches the road

A dog watches the road

Sporting Thursday: Snowshoe Hair tracks and a Geocache.

Cross-country skiing, either skate or classic, is a great way to exercise and get outside during the long Alaskan winters. Sticking to a groomed trail or breaking your own through the woods both provide ample opportunities for fun sights.

A trip on March 13, traversing trails just north of Fairbanks from my house to a friend’s, had a few hidden surprises.

While stopped to discuss which direction to go I spotted some snowshoe hair tracks off the trail. My shadow provides a little perspective while some unidentified tracks disappear off frame.

Snowshoe hair tracks and shadow.

Snowshoe hair tracks and shadow.

From there we followed what appeared to be a well-tracked snowmachine trail. While continuing to appear well traveled, it quickly delved into a walking only trail, then abruptly stopped in a clearing. Again, while debating our next move, I glanced around, noticing a cache in snow.

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After a brief inspection it was discovered to be a geocache. Geocaching is a global game where people upload the longitude and latitude of a cache online for others to find. Inside was a variety of objects: a pipe cutter, crayons, paint, playing cards, a Pez dispenser and a mosquito net to name a few. The rules simply state if you take something you must leave something.

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Glad our lives didn’t depend on the contents.

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We fell under the “found by accident” category.

The ski was close to 10 miles, and that worked up an appetite. So to finish off “Sporting Thursday” is a picture of a fellow winter adventurer captured while waiting for pizza.

A winter biker casts a long shadow outside Corner Campus Mall, March 13, 2013.

A winter biker casts a long shadow outside Corner Campus Mall, March 13, 2013.

‘Tis the season to ski: Nat’ Geo’ Extreme Photo of the Week and more.

First things first: A huge shout out to my friend and fellow (former) Fairbanks resident, Luke Smith, who is the skier in this weeks National Geographic Extreme Photo of the Week. Photographer Ryan Kruger captured Luke skiing Frazier Basin, Bridger Range, Montana.

Here’s the image, click the link above to see the full story. I especially like the delay between the initial viewing and noticing the skier, and of course, the monochromatic image.

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photo by Ryan Krueger

Photographing skiing and snowboarding is a very delicate balance for me. Often my love for snowboarding overpowers my desire to take photos on the hill.  It’s easy to worry about my camera, ducking under and squeezing through trees at Skiland, where I ride, and the fartherst north chairlift in North America.

I am becomming more comfortable with it though. The hardest part is forcing myself to be less agressive while riding.

While neither of my photos offer the extreme enviornment of Krueger’s, they have their own qualities. Both with a strong sense of light, the Sun peeking out behind my friends Nils and Nick in the first, illuminated hoar frost on the lift in the second. The first image is also a pan shot, my movement, parallel with the subjects, keeps them in focus while blurring the background.

Nick and Nils gather speed for the traverse at Mt. Aurora Skidland.

Nick and Nils gather speed for the traverse at Mt. Aurora Skiland.

Hoar frost on an early morning chairlift ride.

Hoar frost and an Alyeska sticker on a chilly, early morning chairlift ride.