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adventure & travel

Spring tours in Alaska

Low budget AK road trip in late spring

by Felix Hofmayer 04/10/2017
Alaska and British Columbia are known to be powder paradises - as long as you can rent a helicopter and a huge lodge on the edge of the mountains. My companion and I, on the other hand, camped in our converted van in May 2016 with little money in our pockets. In Canada, we were mostly only able to climb, due to the low snowfall, in winter. In Alaska, however, the trip took us to some breathtaking ski touring spots.

In the height of winter, normal day ski tours in the northernmost state of the USA are hardly feasible, the snow is too deep and the spots inaccessible. In spring, however, when the roads are open again, you can easily reach some areas and still find really good snow. But if you're after the huge spineline slopes, you'll have to book a helicopter. Here we present a few inexpensive insider tips in Alaska and also a spot in Canada. These are simple standard ski tours, but some of them have an alpine character and bring you closer to untouched Alaska.

Important: There is hardly any external rescue in these regions. It takes caution and a lot of experience to assess the avalanche situation. Spring tours are therefore more advisable without a guide, even if the snow is no longer a powder dream. In spring, however, the bears have offspring and are relatively hungry, so no one should ever go into the wilderness without bear repellent.

Eagle Creek

We undertook our first ski tour after arriving in Anchorage in the Eagle Creek Valley. It is very short and hardly worthwhile in terms of downhill skiing, but highly recommended as a start and for the scenery. It also included a few good turns. The summit we climbed is called "Rendevouz Ridge". (Coordinates: 61.222453, -149.438242)

Arctic Valley

Somewhat closer to Anchorage is the "Arctic Valley" ski resort. If you drive to the valley station, you can ascend some small slopes quickly and easily. Here you have numerous small tours and a great view. However, the area is controlled by the military, so camping is not recommended. (Coordinates: 61.246072, -149.535001)

Alyeska

Alyeska is only about an hour away from Anchorage and therefore ideal for a day trip from the capital. The famous ski resort offers ski tourers the opportunity to ascent the slopes and still enjoy the finest descents in deep snow. In our case, however, the entire area was closed. But if you follow the "Crow Creek" on a gravel road to the end, you can ascend from there into various cirques and basins, with numerous incredible descents. Fortunately, in May the daylight lasts almost until 23:00, so we were able to make the most of it. (Coordinates: 61.025492, -149.106935)

Kenai Peninsula

The Kenai Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places in Alaska, at least in the accessible part. Unfortunately, we only did one ski tour there, which we started at "Summit Lake". You can drive around this lake. Shortly before the road ends at a campsite, the ascent begins on the left. After a short time you leave the trees behind you, then you can either cross a small valley and ski a steep south-western slope or follow a flatter and more stable slope to the right onto a ridge. This leads to a summit plateau. If the avalanche danger is low, you can ski steeply down both sides of the ridge. Unfortunately, we had to forego this fun and chose the ascent route. The Kenai Peninsula also offers numerous touring options on the way to "Seward", but there must still be plenty of snow, otherwise the approach through the forest and river landscape is impossible. (Coordinates: 60.639536, -149.492265)

Hatcher Pass

The road to Hatcher Pass, which is a little north of Palmer, only opens at the end of spring, but it is cleared before then as far as Independence Mine. If you drive up to a large parking lot there, you can go on endless ski tours and set up camp. However, we only had one day available and it was very warm, so we only built a kicker. However, the area is ideal for touring. (Coordinates: 61.779722, -149.277974)

Denali Highway

Along the Denali Highway, which runs along the mountains of the Alaska Range from west to east, it is almost impossible to get to the mountains. They can only be reached on multi-day hikes, as they lie at the other end of a huge plain. In addition, there is a very dense undergrowth there even in spring - you can hardly cross it without a hiking trail. That's why there was only one spot for us, directly after a long suspension bridge in the middle of the highway. This is a narrow gully that we were able to ascent and descent in a short time. Nevertheless, it is worth it: we enjoyed a breathtaking view in the company of sea eagles. (Coordinates: 63.080257, -147.463245)

Thompson Pass

In the region around the ski paradise of Valdez, there are numerous places for tours without a helicopter. This is possible, for example, on the other side of the bay, just before Jackson Point. The Thompson Pass, which you have to drive over to get to Valdez, is a dream. We climbed a peak directly on the Worthington Glacier. Because there wasn't enough snow, we couldn't go onto the glacier or across the river to the opposite mountain range. In April, however, there was certainly still enough snow there to do some great tours. We contented ourselves with a great descent - the summit is probably called "Rock Spur" - and a bit of sport climbing directly on the glacier. The climbing rock is called: The Sunny Side. (Coordinates: 61.166293, -145.707097)

Valdez Glacier

The Valdez Glacier is extremely long and, in better snow conditions, offers numerous gullies and cirques that branch off to the side. We only undertook a day's hike, but didn't even make it halfway up the glacier tongue. (Coordinates: 61.146101, -146.166410)

Mount Athabasca

We drove on to Canada and were even able to start a fantastic ski tour on Mount Athabasca at the end of June. The numerous crevasses mean you have to be careful, but it is absolutely brilliant. The surrounding peaks and the Columbia Icefield offer a breathtaking landscape. The descent was also worthwhile, although we had to carry our skis for quite a while. If you start ski touring in Canada in spring, you have much more choice than in Alaska and at least as good powder. (Coordinates: 52.218111, -117.224485)

However, our trip also showed us that: The mountains of Alaska and Canada can also be explored on a budget.

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This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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