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SNOWKITING in ALASKA: The Last Frontier

SNOWKITING in ALASKA: The Last Frontier
By James Brown

Originally Published in the December 2007 Issue of The Kiteboarder Magazine

My brother Jeff and I were born in Anchorage, Alaska where we were raised on a healthy diet of snowmobiling, skiing and snowboarding. We discovered snowkiting in 1999 while living in Colorado, and it opened our eyes to a whole new way to have fun in the snow. After many years of exploring spots around the “Lower 48” states, our friend John Tompkins of Kite Alaska sent us a video from a snowkiting trip he had taken around our home turf. A phone call to Brian and Heather Schenck from Ozone Kiteboarding was all it took to get the ball rolling to meet up with Jeff ands the locals for a trip to “The Last Frontier.”

snowkiting_alaska

Day 1:
March is a good time of year to visit Alaska because it isn’t too cold, there is more daylight and it is likely to still have good snow. Our crew made a quick stop at Northwind Kites in Anchorage, then headed out to Westchester Lagoon where you can ride on the mud flats or the lagoon. There wasn’t much wind so we rented a R.V. and picked up John at his shop. With mounting excitement, we headed southeast along the Turnagain Arm towards the Kenai Peninsula. Along the way you can spot dall sheep on the cliffs and white beluga whales in the ocean. Within a couple of hours we arrived at the 20-Mile Pull Out, a local spot for kiting on water and snow. In awe of the gigantic mountains and gridlocked ice floes that surrounded us, we explored the snow drifts of the expansive area until the sun dropped below the horizon.

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Day 2:
The next morning, eager locals joined us for another session at 20-Mile. Luckily, the forecast for no wind was not accurate and we spent most of the day tearing it up. We all had a blast meeting fresh new faces, riding together out on the snowdrifts and through the windswept trees. At one point, the Alaska train thundered by as we silently tacked back and forth in its shadow. On the trip back, eagles soared overhead and moose foraged for food in the alder bushes.

Day 3:
With a beautiful blue sky, we passed the windless 20-Mile Pull Out and turned in to the Portage Glacier visitor center a few miles down the road. The wind was building and the entire lake leading up to the receding glacier was covered in a thick blanket of fresh powder. The sides of the lake were lined with everything from small banks to extremely avalanche-prone steeps. I rigged up as fast as I could and rode up the nearest bank, sending big jumps over photographer Scott Dickerson. Another bunch of excited locals joined us to demo kites and take advantage of the premium conditions. A small “Bush” plane equipped with skis landed on the lake. To our surprise, the plane was piloted by a couple of local kiters. Later in the day I towed videographer, Anders Gustafson, out onto the lake to where Jeff and Brian were slashing up the bank next to the road that leads to Whittier. We rode with huge smiles until the wind got too light, so we packed up and drove about 10 miles to Turnagain Pass. On the way we saw a couple of huge moose at an area properly named Moose Flats. Unfortunately there wasn’t any wind, but the potential for kiting the supercross-style terrain and steep slopes got us amped.

Day 4:
In Palmer we met up with Tom Fredericks who joined us for the remainder of the trip. We hooked up Jeff’s snowmobile behind the R.V. for backup support and the six of us headed to Thompson Pass, 300 miles from Anchorage. On our way north past the stunning Matanuska Glacier, we caught a brief glimpse of a pack of wolves running through the woods. At Gunsight Mountain we scoped out some super fun terrain, but unfortunately had no wind. The descent into Thompson Pass was spectacular. Steep chutes surrounded us and we began to see ski tracks from the world-class helicopter tours. It was a windless blue-sky day so we decided to make the 45-minute trip to Valdez, passing gigantic frozen waterfalls on the way to the valley floor. As we rounded the snow-covered river bend at mile marker 7, someone spotted a local named Ken who was just packing up his small kite. The wind was actually blowing down the valley, so we grabbed our gear and carefully walked across an ice bridge over the river to the snow-covered river basin. With the deep powder, we were able to throw pretty much any move we wanted and some downed trees provided perfect log slides for us to session until the sun went down. Arriving in Valdez, we went to the Pipeline Bar to throw back some Irish Car Bombs, play some shuffleboard and listen to live local music. Valdez is a good base camp if you don’t have an R.V. or simply want the comforts of a small town.

alaska-kiteboarding

Day 5:
Back up on Thompson Pass we were stoked to have wind and perfect snow conditions. I immediately set up my 12m and headed up a steep chute, thinking, “What would Chasta do?” The wind in the chute was sketchy so I headed back down to the valley floor and joined the rest of the crew for an epic session on the cornices, banks and quarter-pipes. We couldn’t believe how fun it was. Each day just kept getting better and better. As the sun set below the horizon we loaded up our gear and headed down to Valdez for Mexican food at Ernesto’s and a much needed dip in the hot tub at the Aspen Hotel.

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Day 6:
Frantic to have a repeat of the previous day, we met up early with local photographer, Andrew McGarry, who was at the upper end of the Pass. I headed out as soon as humanly possible to hit some huge natural rollers in the middle of the valley floor. I made my way further down the valley where the steep mountains meet the river and create miles of quarter-pipes and cornices that blew our minds. The rest of our crew joined me and we spent the entire day exploring every possible feature. We rode so long that we could hardly stay on our feet by sunset!

We spent the last night in the R.V. at the top of the Pass and I awoke to find that the heater had kicked off—leaving my shoes frozen to the floor. Thinking back, it was a small price to pay for the most epic snowkiting adventure ever!

FACT FILE:
Airport/Lodging: Fly into Anchorage International Airport.
ABC Motorhomes: www.abcmotorhome.com
Mountain Sky Hotel: From $99-159, www.mountainskyhotelsuite.com
Best Western: From $89, www.Valdezharborinn.com
Totem Inn: From $99, www.toteminn.com

Meals and Entertainment:
Anchorage: The Peanut Farm restaurant and bar Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria
Girdwood: Alyeska Ski Resort, The Bake Shop, The Double Musky Inn, Maxines Glacier City Bistro
Valdez: Ernesto’s Mexican restaurant, Pipeline restaurant and bar

Shops:
Kite Alaska: www.kitealaska.com
Northwind Kites: www.alaskites.com

Local Association: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AKKA/

Originally Published in the December 2007 Issue of The Kiteboarder Magazine

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