“We’re gonna ski this thing T-to-B,” Dean Cummings said. By “this thing” he meant a 2,000-plus vertical foot ramp in the Chugach Mountains near Valdez, AK. By “T-to-B” he meant top-to-bottom, no stopping.
When Dean speaks, you listen—he’s been guiding in these mountains for 25 years. They’re pretty much the steepest, most snow-rich peaks in the world. They rise right from the deep waters of Prince William Sound and run for a hundred-or-so miles in every direction. These peaks offer a lifetime of serious lines to those with the means to get to Valdez and find their way into a helicopter. To ski them safely takes decades of experience and training, and a little luck with the weather.
I would have felt lucky at that moment, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to consider the providence of my circumstance. Tucked below a little rock fin and clinging to a 55-degree slope in the Valley of the Tusk, Dean was offering up an opportunity that I’d been dreaming about for 30 years of snow-sliding: the chance to open up a Chugach classic. So, after some consideration of sluff management, I obliged.
We were there to ski and ride with H2O Guides earlier this month—mid-April, 2016. Although town was feeling mighty spring-like, the alpine was stacked with an estimated 1,000 inches of snow. The preceding weeks had seen some weather holds but this day—and all but one of our five days in Alaska—had been blessed by more or less blue skies. Alongside me were Landon Bassett, Mike Crowe, Sean Tedore and Matt Wibby. We’d all been to AK before. But few of us had scored like this.
One-by-one we made our way down through the choke, navigating deep, stable snow to the glacier below. It was run two of six on the day, and everyone would get their turn to tag a top-ten line of their own—Chugach visions burned into the frontal lobe. Visions like none other.