Alaska stirs up certain images: untouched powder faces, helicopters following pointing fingers into the next range, pros progressing beyond our comprehension. It couldn’t seem farther away from our sub-treeline resorts and yet it’s all there for the taking. One email to an uncle on his shoulder season in Anchorage and I was flying over the Chugach enroute to Thompson’s pass, home to the endless lines and party that is Tailgate.
The trip was a gamble with weather from the onset. A blizzard put the camp to sleep Thursday and sunlight greeted us Friday morning. I geared up and edged towards the guide garden as the first sleds began revving. “It’s a sucker hole up there,” I kept hearing. ‘Sucker Hole’ being a momentary flash of sun that lures you out of port just in time for the storm to roll back in under you. It’s basically the equivalent of urine in a Gatorade bottle to heli pilots – looks good enough to take a chance on, but in actuality it’s only piss. With the birds grounded I did the only thing and went in search of a sled bump.
Sounds simple, but that’s coming from a rookie accustomed to resort riding. A friendly did end up letting me on his sled – I couldn’t leave empty handed – but at 40 mph pointed up the Northerly aspect I admit that what I could feel was mostly fear. Word to the wise, sleds made for one person tend to tip when two people ascend at a steep angle. We made our way onto the shelf and before he kicked me off I was able to stammer a thank you to the brave captain that shuttled this tourist up to the best powder line of his life. “I wish I could have got you higher,” he said, “but I can’t see shit.”
The light went flat. My pack was strapped, Lenses switched, taper ready to dip in, but I waited. More clouds. I turned and plead with the cirque in a way I never have before. Still grey. “Give me 18 seconds of daylight, that’s all I need,” my mantra went. “Just one more sucker hole for a kid who spent his winter on the east coast,” I begged. And it parted. Not in half, simply a hole of blue sky that moved directly over my head. One biblical beam of sunlight came down and lit up the Alaskan powder. My phone stayed in pocket. Better to keep those moments sacred. Instead I pointed it and forgot that I weighed anything for a while.
So it was one run. The clouds moved back in and did not open again. Many would call that a defeat. Buzzed and taking in the Shoot Dangs concert that night, it sure felt like victory. As the quartet crooned, I kept replaying the slashes over in my head – the perfect sequence, a primal sequence, the migratory instinct of a fish swimming downstream. The party grew rowdier, a bonfire leaping competition started, and the rest of the night fades from my memory. I’m sure of one thing though. Before I left I took a nip of whiskey, spit it into the fire, and rose proud to be…