(Ed’s note: This is the second piece in a series; see Part I here.)
By Ian Fohrman
After about a week this place starts to get to you. Each day starts with peering under the cheap RV blinds as pupils slowly dilate, eyes find focus, and the weather information seeps in… Cloudy again. It's Groundhog Day on Thompson pass.
You walk by the same tents, caves, snow machines and trucks and head nod to the same people peering under their own blinds or staring blankly, coffee cups in hand, into the thick hanging moisture hiding their AK dreams. You have the same conversation about plans for the day and the answer is always the same. “We'll see. Hoping the weather breaks." Or, "I don't know yet. I'm going to see what the Tahoe guys are doing.”
Plans here are always vague and filled with contingencies; they have to be. To get anything done you have to exist in a constant state of readiness, prepared to jump on any opportunity that presents itself. To stay sane you have to be just as ready to sip your coffee for hours and happily stare into the abyss. It took a few days to dial in the balance.
On my first Thompson Pass morning I brewed some coffee and ambled back toward my friend's camp. We had made plans to ski that day over cocktails made with glacial ice the night before and hadn't figured out yet that the weather and conditions tend to make your plans for you. The skin up was mellow and motion of any kind was welcomed but weather moved in fast and forced us down. The ski was what we were warned about… somewhere between breakable crust and frozen ocean. We cracked beers and made our way through camp to the Avalanche Awareness Center for some beacon drills before calling it an early day and heading into town.
Over the next week I did everything in my power to make the most of socked in mediocre-at-best conditions. Thanks to Tailgate Alaska, snowboard industry icon Mark Sullivan's renegade gathering of mountain people I was always surrounded by someone ready to drop into something fun. I went ice climbing with legendary guide and Jackson Hole Airforce O.G. Dave Wade. I hitch-hiked for road laps with Johnny Collinson, Jacqui Edgerly, Vanessa Aadland, and Dorian Densmore. I took a crevasse rescue class and did more beacon drills.
I've been a skier and a traveler long enough to know that preconceived notions are poor travel companions and flexibility is a vital tool on the road. Friends and ski movie voiceovers had given me ample warning that you can't come to AK for a week and expect to score, yet by day 6 I definitely was getting antsy.