Skiing in Alaska: Part 1

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[This post describes phase two of The Mountain Training School guide school program: skiing. This 36 day course involves multiple backcountry expeditions as well as resort days to work on ski skills. Enjoy and please comment!]

After a few days being digested by international travel my cohorts and I find ourselves in a steel warehouse just outside Palmer, Alaska. We’ll be in AK for 3 months completing our medical training, our ski program, and our basic mountaineering course. We spent 10 hours each day for 8 days on our asses studying symptoms, treatments, and protocols for backcountry medical emergencies. Our collective gazes could have melted the only window in our home/classroom/cage.  After receiving our Wilderness First Responder Certifications [read more here] we prepared for three days in “the field”: a shakedown run of winter camping and backcountry skiing.

This is skinning
This is skinning. “Skins” on our skis stop us from sliding backwards.

We began skinning (basically walking on skis) down the Gold Mint Trail near Hatcher Pass. 12 hours before we had been ripping tags and plastic wrap off our new ski gear and now we were wishing we did it months ago. After an hour of sliding into each other, clacking our bindings, and stomping our skis we found a suitable area to make camp for the next two nights. I wanted to go further that day; my body needed exercise and my brain needed to think about nothing. Nevertheless, camping here gave us access to some moderate skiing terrain on which to cut our teeth.   We spent the day stomping tent platforms in the snow, digging kitchens, practicing avalanche rescue skills, and even doing a bit of skiing.

This represents the first day pretty well
This represents the first day pretty well.

Our first runs were hilarious to say the least. Although confident in a resort with well groomed, manmade “snow” the presence of icy fins, bits of powder, and unstable crusts between every turn shook my resolve. It was insanely fun but gave us good reason to master the basics of technique in the days ahead.

Great views up valley from camp Stoked to be in AK for my first time
Great views up valley from camp. Stoked to be in AK for my first time.

Relative to the summer nights in Chile, winter nights in Alaska are cold. Negative something Celsius on our first night, to be imprecise. The crammed tent, although a burden to get into, proved a godsend as we fed off each other’s heat in a sleeping symbiotic relationship. Waking up in the morning was hard, leaving the sleeping bag seemed impossible. Our current situation wasn’t even close to shitty but the knowledge that we would deal with harder days, worse weather, and colder temperatures on future expeditions wore on our minds. Bacon and eggs for breakfast brought us back to the present and got us stoked for some more experiential learning.

The local watering hole Thanks to Spencer Adams for the picture Check out his blog
The local watering hole. Thanks to Spencer Adams for the picture. Check out his blog.

The remaining day and a half passed similarly to the first with skiing, skinning, avalanche, and winter camping skills improving constantly.  After breaking down camp on day 3 we skinned back to the trail head in no time; our minds buzzing with tips on how to do everything a bit better, our bodies just barely keeping up.

[More to come!!! -Kevin]

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