Alaska Ski ‘n’ Shovel ‘Stravaganza

Icy decks and icier winds on the M/V LeConte.

Mike and I traveled to Alaska (and Canada, as it turned out) over New Year’s to visit friends. Bryn and Louis’ new cabin is about 40 miles north of Haines, AK, which is a four-hour ferry ride up the Inside Passage from Juneau, which is a few thousand miles from Reno. (Whew.) A bunch of us met there to warm up the cabin, ski the deep snow for which this area is known, visit, and eat like kings.

Yay for a warm cabin, dry clothes and hot drinks!

Bryn and Louis, with a lot of help from Fairbanks carpenter friend Philip, have painstakingly built this cabin over the course of a few years, when they had time to make the 14+ hour drive from Anchorage to their land at 38 Mile Haines Highway. Once there, they cut and milled the trees that would be used for the cabin.

Building supplies were hauled in from Anchorage, Fairbanks, or Haines; even though they are on the road system, they are still almost 40 miles outside a small town, and there are always logistics … but they managed, and now have a cozy place to call home away from home.

planes, ferries, automobiles

The mighty M/V LeConte heads into Haines after a stormy and grey 4-hour cruise up Lynn Canal from Juneau.

Getting to the cabin took almost two days. We first flew from Reno to Seattle, where we spent part of our layover afternoon taking the light rail into town for lunch at El Puerco Llorón (The Crying Pig), our favorite Mexican restaurant; and were dismayed to discover that Elliott Bay Books, our favorite downtown bookstore, had closed! Or so we thought. When we got home, we learned that they had only moved to a still-walkable site near downtown. (Whew, again.)

Katie and I donned puffy skirts to brave the aft deck on the ferry.

Then we boarded a flight from Seattle to Juneau via Ketchikan, part of the “milk run” route that skips up Southeast and stops in places like Yakutat and Sitka too.

After renting a car, stuffing in ski gear for three people, and overnighting at the funky Silverbow Inn (left) in Juneau (tired yet?), we boarded the Alaska State Ferry for the four-hour ride up stormy Lynn Canal to Haines. The ferry ride was rather wintry and exciting, as you can see here:

Skinning our crap 'n' stuff up the long, steep driveway to the cabin. Skis were definitely easier than wading through deep snow.

Haines is located in the far southeastern part of the state, in the so-called “panhandle.” Its coastal location means it gets lots of precipitation, which runs the gamut from dumps of rain to dumps of snow. We counted ourselves fortunate that it was cold enough for the latter, since between seven and nine people were sharing a small cabin for a few days.

Mike and Katie skin through fresh snow past frozen waterfalls.

To ski, we drove a few miles north to the border station at Dalton Cache, BC, and showed our passports. The border agents got to know us a bit, since we went right back through six hours later!

There are no ski resorts in this area and backcountry skiing was the order of the day. Everyone had climbing skins for going uphill and breaking trail on skis, plus the required safety gear of avalanche beacon, probe, and shovel, plus headlamps (it was dark by 4pm) and copious amounts of lunch.

The almost-continual snow kept us skiing the big trees of northwestern BC — mountain hemlock and Sitka spruce — which grow large in this part of the world, thanks to all the water. And there was plenty of snow to cover [most of] the thick alders that can make skiing in the woods rather … interesting.

Pre-descent views included lots of blue and white.
Mike, Louis and Philip opted to cross the river for some glacier skiing.

We had one day without falling snow that inspired some of the group to do a chilly river crossing to reach a glacier and some peaks.

The rest of us opted for a shorter day, capped off with Scrabble and hot drinks by the wood stove.

Touring back along the river with Bryn and Dash.
Snowy Day: The soaked crew comes out of the trees to where it's really dumping.

One might even say we had too much snow — one 24-hour period saw 42 inches of fresh powder come down steadily. As skiers, we all rejoiced, but the day this happened, we did just one run: everyone was soaked by the time we got to the top, and that much snow at one time can destabilize the snowpack — it needs time to settle.

Best to be conservative and head for dry clothes and hot drinks back at the cabin. But that one run sure was sweet — waist-deep fluffy powder.

We probably did about as much shoveling as skiing. Here, we see the last of our Toyota Corolla rental car before excavating it the next day.
Can you spot our tent? Mike and I (well, mostly Mike) dug it out several times that day.
Steve with the giant bottle of red wine. (yes, we finished it.)

Cabin fare was extravagant — everything from tortellini with alfredo, to reindeer sausage with raspberry-chipotle sauce, to halibut tacos — plus hot soups, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, red wine, and IPA from the Haines Brewing Company.

Bonus: when you’re out skiing all day, you get to eat what you want when you come back!

Katie and Philip work on a dinner that includes caribou that Philip had hunted. Bryn knitted us gals beautiful hats for Christmas -- Katie's sporting hers here.
Mike views the foreseeable forecast, thanks to Don's iPad.
Looking south back into Alaska on a beautiful winter afternoon.

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