Am I ready for Alaska?
You don’t have to be an “extreme skier” to come to Alaska and enjoy the Chugach Mountains.
Although magazines and movies have created the “extreme skiing scene” in the Chugach Range, there are endless opportunities for everyone. At PNH we match your ability to the terrain. We recommend that guests be intermediate level riders and comfortable in a variety of snow conditions. Due to the very deep snow conditions, we encourage the use of fat skis from Rossignol and if you don’t have them, they are available for rental at PNH. Everyone that comes to Alaska is usually nervous. It is important to relax. Our guides care about your experience and your safety. We ski the steep terrain only when snow conditions allow. We always descend slopes one at a time and each client carries a small radio for communication purposes with the guide. The guide will always assess the slope prior to your descent. If the slope seems in anyway unsafe the guide will radio the helicopter for pick up.
We ask that all of or guests come in ski shape. This doesn’t mean go out and run a marathon. The better shape your in the more enjoyable your experience will be. Average runs in the Chugach are 3000 to 4000 vertical. Average days are 20-30,000 vertical feet. We don’t have to ski our slopes top to bottom without stopping however, sometimes we encourage it.
Your guide will assist you in understanding and pointing out when to be aware of sluff. However, this is a good introduction to what you may experience on some of the slopes that we may be skiing.
- Don’t descend steep sluff-prone terrain when slab avalanches or large sluffs are likely. Thoroughly check out stability on lesser slopes first. Manageable sluffs are dry, no more than 3 to 15 cm (1″ to 6″) deep and leave deposits less than 40 cm (16″) deep. Large sluffs are as powerful and dangerous as slabs. Don’t mess with them.
- Remember that sluffs may trigger slabs even when slopes don’t fail when ridden. The sluff can add more rapid load and stress to the snowpack than a rider.
- Consider sluffs inevitable on slopes steeper than 45° in soft snow. The snow may not sluff, but you should have a plan in mind if it does. In really loose or sugary snow, 40° slopes may sluff, but sluffs slow down and lose energy when the slope shallows to 40° in most snow
- Sluff follows the hollows and depressions in the slope and spreads out thinly on “bowling ball” shapes. Where thin, it may be rideable. Where deep and powerful, it won’t be.
- Know where your sluff is at all times! Look back uphill (called the “Chugach Look”). This is easier for toeside snowboarders. Skiers should practice a bit or track their sluff by its shadow if the sun is at the right angle. Just be sure you really know where the snow is.
- If the sluff is catching you, use “Islands of Safety” as places to stop while it passes. Pull up under on a protective terrain feature. Pull out to the side, preferably under a bump that will divert the sluff and protect you, or pause on top of a spine, bump, rib, or rock outcrop.
- Ski cutting. The traditional sluff management tool is to cut quickly across the top of the run, skidding and bouncing to release the sluff; then descend behind it. This may or may not clean out the slope, and it may or may not meet aesthetic desire for untracked snow.
- Avoidance by speed. This can be done either by going slowly enough that the sluff runs ahead of and below you, or by going like hell and not falling. While top riders often pull off the latter method, remember that you must be rock solid and confident to do it, and that even the best will sometimes fall. What are the consequences if you do?
- Avoidance by terrain – Keep working toward one side of the slope. Cut consistently left, or right, on every turn or every few turns so the sluff goes down the slope you have just left. You can pull to the side and pause, if necessary. This method works best on large, featureless slopes.
- Avoidance by terrain – Work double fall lines. When there is a side slope to the terrain, get up on it. The slope may fall away to one side, so work the high edge. In a chute, you may be able to stay up on one side while the sluff runs in the bottom.
- Avoidance by terrain – Work spines and ridges. The sluff will fall to either side. The spine must be wide enough for turns without getting boards caught in the sluff. Opposite sides of the spine are different aspects, and may have radically different snow and stability. Most spines form because snow builds up above a rock outcrop, ice chunk, or other obstacle. When your spine ends, can you jump the end piece, bail off the side, or pause on top? Sluff will be flowing on both sides. Will it spread out thinly enough to ride through once the channeling effect of the spine is gone?
- Avoidance by terrain – Change drainages or get up on a side slope as the sluff passes. Descend aggressively, bail as necessary. Use combined techniques to put together a do-able line. This is an advanced method.
- Avoidance by terrain – Watch the choke points! Places where you go through a narrows, leave a spine, or drop under any sluff-collecting feature will be the cruxes of the route. Either avoid the sluff-enhancing features, or time your passage so you are well ahead of or behind the sluff.