Photos By: Travis Andersen    
   
 


Twelve years ago my friend Marcus talked me into joining him on a three-week ski trip that turned into a four-month-long adventure. He convinced me that spending the summer living with three smelly dudes on a commercial salmon fishing boat based out of Valdez was a good idea.

Now, I find myself on the floor at the Bozeman airport hastily restuffing my enormous ski bag after the security guards trashed my perfect packing job. I’m thinking to myself, “I must be fucking nuts!”  He’d done it again. After months of calls, emails, and Facecrook posts filled with stories and photos from an epic winter in AK, Marcus had me booked on a one-way flight to Valdez. In truth, I was easily convinced  to leave the grim snowpack in the Rockies for another wild adventure with Captain Fuller.

The plan began with us flying into Cordova, where we were slated to dig out Marcus’ snowed-in VW. We knew that the battery was completely dead and that the keys were locked inside. From there, we needed to get it on a ferry bound for Valdez. You can see why I was nervous about the plan from the start.

Regardless, this isn’t another story about a bunch of pro skiers sitting around a hotel room waiting for the storm to break so they can shred the heli-gnar on the corporate man’s dime. This is a tale about a couple of powder hounds getting it done in AK on a ski bum’s budget.

I left Montana with $600 cash in my pocket, no credit card, a hundred pounds of ski and camera gear, my portfolio book, and a few Bomb Snow magazines. The idea was to talk anyone I could into taking me to the goods so I could report on what was really going on around Valdez.

The plan began with us flying into Cordova, where we were slated to dig out Marcus’ snowed-in VW. We knew that the battery was completely dead and that the keys were locked inside. From there, we needed to get it on a ferry bound for Valdez. You can see why I was nervous about the plan from the start.

The long skin up to Dimond Peak.

The town of Valdez, Alaska

As fate would have it, the flight from Anchorage to Cordova was canceled due to a massive blizzard. Luckily, my father-in-law lived in Anchorage and was willing to pick us up. That evening we debated whether or not the flights scheduled for the next day would actually go out, as well as the chance that our van would actually start.

We quickly concluded that the wise move was to drive over to Alyeska the next morning and ski 30+ inches of fresh powder, then catch the ferry in Whittier the following day. It was a great plan; I had managed to dodge my first bullet and got the much needed powder skiing that I’d been missing for weeks.

When we finally got off the ferry in V-town, it was still dumping and the snow banks around town were pretty much hiding the buildings. The following morning went as predicted; the salivating hordes of hopeful heli-skiers were choking the hotel lobby, mostly glued to The Weather Channel. 

Marcus and I drove to the pass, made some road runs during the storm, and chalked up another nearly free day of powder skiing. We spent the next few days cruising around town and Thompson Pass, trying to make connections with the various local guide services. They were all hungry for the beginning of heli season, and the opportunity to start milking cash out of the tourist cows.

It soon became painfully obvious that there is no such thing as free heli-skiing; not for photographers, not for ski bums, not for anybody. Rather, the heli services are set up to take advantage of as many wealthy wanker tourists as humanly possible. I think this is something I already knew deep down, but that I was hoping just wasn’t true.  

We quickly concluded that the wise move was to drive over to Alyeska the next morning and ski 30+ inches of fresh powder, then catch the ferry in Whittier the following day.

Marcus digging out the VW, and the Japanese vagabond camp behind the Mountain Sky Hotel.

With heli-skiing out of our budget, we hooked up with some local sled-necks. Hitchiking is a part of skiing on any pass that has some traffic, and on Thompson Pass, we hitched with sleds. We hooked up with Big Mountain Taxi, and were once again amazed by how fast and high the two of us were able to travel by snowmobile. Later that afternoon, we climbed the ridge to the Berlin Wall and made it to the top just in time for the sun to go down.

Just before beating the sun down the mountain, we spotted a couple snowboarders bootpacking an exposed line. As it turns out, these dudes had been camping outside in the snow banks for the past week right behind our hotel. That night at the bar, we met Tomoki and Yama, two Japanese snowboard vagabonds and chatted with them about our amazing week of skiing. They showed us their camp behind the parking lot and we invited them on Captain Fuller's fishing boat for a night cap. As we clanged beer bottles to another great day in AK, we laughed at the simplicity of our happiness.

In the end, we had to admit what we knew all along . . . you just have to go skiing. 

In the end, we had to admit what we knew all along . . . you just have to go skiing. 

Tomoki ended the day by showing us how they bootpack where he comes from.

Captain Fuller taking in a nice sunset near the top of the Berlin Wall.

After shuttling us to the top, our friend Jeremy ghost-rode his sled and squeezed a few turns in before grabbing more friends for another lap.


Photos BY: Travis Andersen

   
   
 

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