Powder runs and spring slush; an unexpected comeback for Alyeska

Halfway up the stairs to my bedroom I came to a grinding halt soaked in sweat, desperately trying to squeeze another couple of vertical inches out of my aching calves. Coming to the startling conclusion that my legs had ceased to function as such, I contemplated my potential future as a spokesman for Life Alert, the company that apparently deals exclusively with those who fall down stairs and can’t get up.

Rather than suffering from some obscure disease or traumatic injury, I instead was feeling the after-effects of snow induced euphoria brought on by an impromptu trip down to Alyeska for what had been the most unexpected triumph of the year.

It’s been a rough year for those of us who view snow as a playground for adults. Though my backcountry ski course had trekked all across Southcentral in search of the perfect run across steep glazed slopes and powder-ridden valleys, those who chose not to stray off the beaten path weren’t so lucky. The one trip I took down to the resort had been filled with disappointment, icy slopes, and the distinct inability to run more than ten feet without biffing it on a surface more akin to concrete than snow. This, of course, was followed by a hefty pitcher at the Sitzmark as I lamented Boston’s theft of our most precious resource.

Not this time however. As our backcountry class had concluded the previous week we were all still thirsty for snow and scrambling to get our powdery fix before the season ended for good. For once Mother Nature (or whichever deity responds positively to a sacrificial offering of burnt skis) had listened to our ski bum prayers and spread a little bit of wealth to the higher elevations of Girdwood. On top of that we had heard rumors that Alyeska had opened up Glacier Bowl and Headwall, two outer areas so far up that avalanche beacons are required and neither had been seen open in recent memory. An army couldn’t have kept us off those slopes.

Four of our class, the other two apparently having horribly skewed priorities which didn’t involve shredding anything resembling gnar, piled into a truck early Saturday morning and shot down to Girdwood at record pace. We rented beacons, strapped in, suited up, and headed up the lift with our bodies fueled by pure adrenaline and breakfast burritos from Carrs.

The first run was up Glacier Bowl, the area directly above the uppermost lift. We passed ski patrol buzzing with excitement about the opening which, according to them, hadn’t occurred for eight solid years. Hiking became an exercise in “I told you so” as the rest of my former classmates got to boot up the mountain like I had been doing all season. Passing a fallen cornice the size of a passenger van we hiked almost up to the rock line below Alyeska Peak to the left of Center Ridge and dropped into what must have been some of the only untouched powder on the mountain.

While the lower mountain was dirt infested slush and mid-mountain had been a bit crusty to start the day, Glacier Bowl was pure powder as we screamed down towards Chilkoot Knoll, bouncing off divots and rolls with ease having been laden down with extra gear all season. Two of our number peeled off for Headwall for the second run, while the rest of us made a return trip to the bowl before it closed. While Headwall looked fun, I’ve never intentionally descended down any slopes above 40 degrees on a snowboard and figured that it might not be wise to try and learn on the steepest terrain available.

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For a mountain that sports such vividly descriptive names like “Last Chance Cliffs”, “Voluptuous Rolls” and “Big Doo Doo” for its various regions, you’d think they could have come up with something a bit better than Headwall and Glacier Bowl for the areas that actually house the avalanche danger. Personally I’d be fine with names like “Instant Regret” or “Change of Pants Ridge” but so far my suggestions haven’t gained any traction.

As the lifts closed we hit the Sitzmark to snag a much needed pitcher to ease the pain of our burning thighs and then sped off to the pool to try and offset the soreness we were bound to feel. Somewhere between the pool and sauna the fatigue set in and my body decided to become lethargic and sloth-like as I took up residence in the hot tub before we called it a day.

Like an eel who’s been suddenly asked to climb a staircase I flopped awkwardly out of the hot tub, playing off my lack of coordination as drunkenness rather than fatigue, and gathered my gear to call it a night. Though my legs had ceased to function and my body felt like I challenged an MMA champion to a bar fight, all I could think of was the upcoming Slush Cup the following weekend and the tantalizing snow predicted in the forecast. My final capstone project could wait; there was still snow left to run.