V is for Valdez – Alaska
Photos + Words by Freedle Coty / level1productions.com
Every spring the great territory of Alaska sounds a whistle. Similar to a dog whistle, it blows in a pitch that not everyone can decipher. The snow riders that hear it and are lucky enough to scrape enough time and money together make the annual pilgrimage in response to it’s beckoning. This is the last great adventure of the season- the final orgasm if you will.
I made the trip along with Duncan Adams, Wiley Miller and photographer Jeff Cricco to Valdez where we’ve been posted up like a mailbox for the past few weeks. Also in town was Josh Bibby (on a sledneck ski mission with Dan Treadway) and Tanner Rainville was on his way. To set the scene- Tailgate Alaska was already rocking out when we arrived attracting snowboarders, skiers, snowmachiners, and Winnebago enthusiasts like bees on honey…or flies on s**t. Conditions were excellent, and Travis Rice was clearing out bar real estate after winning the newly resurrected “King Of The Hill” big mountain snowboard contest.
After the dust settled and the crowds dispersed the Chugach was primed to go. Weirdly enough when you have a mountain range the size of Delaware at your disposal it’s hard to know where to begin. We came prepared for whatever- well as prepared as you can be I suppose, given the variables. We started small- making use of Bibby’s sled for some easy laps in the elevator gulleys on Thompson Pass to get the pow legs underneath us. From there with three days of straight bluebird skies ahead of us we started accessing the goods with helicopters- what Bibby describes as “Just like a big snowmobile that flies”.
The first evening out was straightforward fun. Things were caked with great snow that was relatively stable but enough fresh for some sizable sloughing. Duncan and Wiley dove right in and came out immediately with some of the nicest skiing they’ve had. Unfortunately with the sweet comes the bitter. On the second day out Duncan fell on a minigolf double-stager and tore his shoulder- ultimately shattering the rest of the trip for him. The next day we had a newly energized crew of Wiley, Bibby, Rainville, and Logan Imlach (fresh outta Anchorage with some life-savings scraped together for a first heli experience). However following a successful warmup run for the group, the helicopter hydraulics blew just as we were set to hit the lines of the day. From there we escaped the freezing temperatures on the glacier and skied out to a resting point for a lift out later in the evening- leaving the bird to sleep in the field for the night. Despite the luxury afforded to us with opportunities like this, it is hard not to get deeply frustrated during these moments when the problems are out of your control. We still have those lines burned into our heads for another day.
The Gulf Of Alaska churned up another wopper of a storm cycle closing out the beautiful weather window. Duncan and Bibby left town back to the lower 48 and BC respectively, leaving us to our own devices…exploring glacial lake ice fields and road lapping in the blizzard on Thompson Pass as big floaty snowflakes were falling in town. But as they say- “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”. And it ain’t over yet.
Part 2 dropping tomorrow.
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