Alaska. Waiting for a dream to happen.
WRITTEN BY FRANCOIS KERN, DYNASTAR AMBASSADOR.
PICTURES BY JOCELYN CHAVY
When you've been a skier since you where tiny, when you spend summers waiting for snow, and when the videos of the most beautiful lines skied in Alaska are a source everyday inspiration, there comes a time when skiing Alaska becomes an obsession for any European skier. Though you still have to define which will be your style of travel: aligned with your style of skiing, your dreams & desires, your ability, and of course with your bank manager... Because this is our way of travelling and because we like to add a little adventure in our daily lives, for us it came down to the Denali range. They would enable us to discover these mystical mountains. And That Denali range, the most alpine range in Alaska, the highest in terms of altitude, the busiest, is also the grittiest one; one that can only be approached in "Bivy mode". No lodge, no daily helicopter drop-off, no heating, and no Wi-Fi.
Last spring, our small French team headed to the North East of the new world: Alaska! After 24 hours of travel, a few planes, some luggage delays and ever growing excitement, we landed softly in Ruth Gorge, in the area known as "the West Fork". The west fork is a small islet of ice, 7900ft above sea level, overlooked by the infamous Mount Huntington. While we enjoyed a break in the weather after the 2ft of snow of the previous days, we started setting up camp. Used to the harsh conditions of this type of terrain, and aware of the weather front that was coming towards us, we organized ourselves as best we could; our eyes permanently drawn to the north face of Mt Huntington that was spewing snow in loud avalanches.
One Igloo, 2 tents, and 5 hours later, wrapped in the warmth of out tents, we are ready to face the snow and wait for the weather window that would fulfill our dreams of skiing. What we would learn 2 weeks later is that we were preparing to weather the biggest snowstorm in 10 years, according to the Talkeetna locals. All this from the relative safety of our camp: 12 ft of snow in 14 days (approximately 1 foot per day). Enough to keep us busy clearing that same snow, forcing us to "take our time" before skiing and finally give us an occasion to meditate on the meaning of the word "patience".
Patience. Patience is this ability to stay focused on a goal, the ability to keep desire intact, motivation jacked-up and to master ones expectations. It's a virtue, a quality, a force sometimes, even if pushed to its extreme it can become a bit of a flaw. Going from virtue to vice once it becomes an obsession and a pipe dream and it haunts you! Interestingly enough, Patience has not one but several opposites, several enemies, among them boredom and frustration. These are the two that our tent helped us face, comfortably and removed from cold and humidity. In the end, having good skis, several months of training, the support of great weather specialists or even comfortable boots, isn't much compared to the comfort and warmth of a dry camp!
Frustration. Of course we are frustrated when we are within reach our goals without being even able to try to reach them. When you have travelled across a country, a continent, oceans, seasons, for one specific purpose, waiting in front of your goal becomes a test. Like the wounded man who watches the snow fall, everything is just there in front of us, but we have to wait. So we wait. In French we have an expression that goes "Ronger son frein" (gnawing at the bit). It dates back to the 12th century and was used to describe an impatient horse that grinds his teeth on his bit. That reference says it all: we want to run, we want to release the skier inside and give it everything we've got. But we have to wait and, sometimes, we get bored.
In French we have an expression that goes "Ronger son frein" (gnawing at the bit). It dates back to the 12th century and was used to describe an impatient horse that grinds his teeth on his bit. That reference says it all: we want to run, we want to release the skier inside and give it everything we've got. But we have to wait and, sometimes, we get bored. Boredom. It's like you have to keep yourself busy. Keep your mind busy and your feet busy. Of course, you absolutely need to get on with your teammates. Because even though there's lots of wide open space outside and even though are tents are huge and comfortable, you end up spending 24 hours of the day together.
Fortunately, we're not short of ideas to keep ourselves busy. First of all there's Camp duty. Cooking, which means melting bucket loads of snow to cook and drink too! Clearing the snow from around the camp. For us that meant a foot of snow, often magnified by the wind. Definitely enough to keep us busy! Then there's the everyday stuff too: clean the camp stove, patch a hole in your pants, fiddle with a painful ski boot, take care of blisters, build a kitchen inside the igloo, and so on. Then, we also had some reading. Each one of us quietly indulging in his own private world inside of his book; having made sure to pick books that everyone else would enjoy; so we could swap them once we had read them. Collective reading out loud became another variation to kill time. We also had packed audio books, hoping the batteries would last. And then writing, drawing, Crosswords & arrow crosswords, Sudoku, even vacation workbooks for the younger ones in the team!
With time, we started doodling on our mattresses, inventing more or less intelligent games, going out and digging in the snow, for no reason at all... Some groups play music, other solitary travelers own-up to spending time talking to their camera or even their cuddly toy that become confidants. One thing is certain; talking becomes a central element of the day bonding the group together. Doubts, joys, fears, frustrations and ideas: everything is shared and these exchanges are rich and precious.
In the end, as far as we are concerned, and so many travelers have experienced it, the journey often teaches patience and forces you into introspection. For us, this ski trip ended up being mostly a camping adventure. But we all have fond memories of it, and we all came out of it with capacities that have grown, strengthened and matured!