Chugach Powder Guides employees Kiana Putnam, Alannah Rice, and Kami Cabana navigated
their way down the slope of Jimʼs Rock in the zone known as “The Shadows” in the Chugach
Open big mountain competition last weekend at Alyeska Resort. The venue was a serious no-fall
zone with lots of exposed rock and some surprising slough. It definitely required good route
planning and slough management skills. Putnam took first for the Womenʼs snowboard division,
Rice took first for Womenʼs alpine, and Cabana took second in Womenʼs alpine. All three laid
down gnarly runs through really technical terrain, showcasing their ability to plan and execute
some pretty sweet lines. Nice work ladies!
Chugach Powder Guides employees Kiana Putnam, Alannah Rice, and Kami Cabana navigated
The crew from Matchstick Productions has been having a great time hanging out in Girdwood and reaping the reward of a truly epic season in the Western Chugach. Here’s a bit of the take from Ingrid Backstrom, Cody Townsend, Mark Abma and Richard Permin. Good times folks! Good times!
This season, the skiing and snowboarding in Girdwood, Alaska has been so great there are going to be legends about it. We’ve seen 746 inches since October 1 and the snow quality has been ridiculously good with stability that has enabled us to get into areas that rarely see tracks. Woohoo! Check out this video from this weeks guest host, World Freeski Champion, Jess McMillan!
By popular demand, you can now pick up your CPG and EpicQuest gear in our new online store! Sarah Saarloos and her team have been spending more time than ever generating great designs and stocking the shelves with a wide variety of goods you’ll love. Check it out! Just browse, pick your items and place your order. We’ll have it on your doorstep in no time!
The incredible conditions here continue. Check out this video from snowcat skiing a couple of days ago.
When skiing in Kashmir, one can find themselves in some unique situations. In search of powder snow, we have shared tea with the Indian Army’s High Altitude Warfare Batallion, swapped hand gestured stories with local villagers, traversed ancient sheepherding trails and boarded helicopters. With a high pressure system that has failed to produce any significant snowfall that is typical of Gulmarg, we have still have had good luck finding incredible powder skiing and amazing terrain.
Last week, we chose to take a few days off to explore the Kashmir’s summer capital of Srinigar. Situated in a valley surrounded by the Pir Punjab range of Kashmir and the Himalayan foothills of Ladahk, all river drainages flow into a lake system that supplies most of the valleys farmers with water. One of the largest is Dal Lake, the main tourist attraction to Srinigar. One can think of Srinigar as an Indian Venice. Before the turbulent war-torn conflict in the 80′s, Srinigar was a haven and retreat for many travelers and ex-patriots. In lieu of purchasing land, British ex-pats built intricate houseboats that were permanently docked in Dal Lake. In its heyday, hundreds of these houseboats created a community employing floating market vendors, Shikara (boat) drivers, housekeepers and more. By cruising these waterways, it is clear that it was the bustling and lively epicenter of Kashmir tourism. Presently, there is still an air of tourism, but nothing compared to the pre-war times. In the 60′s and 70′s yearly houseboat registers added up to the thousands compared to the 100′s presently. Still the kindness and hospitality shown by the proprietors of this area make this experience magical.
Before retreating to the freshly snowed mountains, we spent a day exploring the open air markets, historical mosques and taking in all the sights and sounds of a typical Indian city. Next was picking up our guests to ski with for the coming weeks. Driving back up to Gulmarg, we were frothing at the tracks laid in deep powder off the road. Ski travelers with bright colored clothing and high tech gear looked out of place as we pass roadside army bunkers and soldiers. The new 3 foot storm boded well for the upcoming week.
The next day we took advantage of the lower elevation snow by skiing road runs to the village of Babareshi. Just like Teton pass, just a bit shorter in vertical and more challenging to arrange a ride up. The following days, we used the mid elevation chairlift to access perfectly spaced birch trees with bottomless powder which ended in the village of Drung. Upon reaching the apple and walnut farming village, we were greeted by curious children wanting to take rides on the back of our skis. While our crew shared tea with a local family, I pulled off my ski boot shells and let the kids have a try at my modern equipment. Children were laughing and playing tug-of-war with the gear as they were all eager to give it a try. Such excitement knowing that skiing could be a future profession.
One challenge that every ski traveler is experiencing in Gulmarg is the operation of the upper gondola. As the main attraction for skiers, the operational difficulties are becoming more complex. Weather challenges asides, Kashmir constantly struggles with a steady power supply and now Gulmarg Snow Safety is having difficulty securing explosives to keep the Gondola bowl safe for skiers. Beaucracy and political debates shroud this endeavor as one can imagine the challenges in obtaining civilian owned, weapon grade explosives on the Line of Control between Pakistan and India. However, each day that the gondola hasn’t opened, we have climbed to some incredible skiing in the surrounding area.
Two days ago, we used my favorite mode of travel. A B-3 Helicopter. We contracted Kashmir Heli Ski Guides to drop our group deep into the high backcountry where we had an amazing 5000 ft descent through previously slid avalanche paths and knee deep powder trees. Toward the end of the day we followed a tributtary river for 4 miles back to the village of Drung. Along the way we skied by a remote Indian Army post, where the sergent offered our group Chai tea. We happily obliged and shared stories about Gulmarg, cricket and skiing. A very unique experience indeed.
Yesterday, we finally got the call from ski patrol that explosives had arrived and they were going through with opening the upper gondola for skiing. First thing in the morning, a queue formed at the gondola entrance and two hours later, 300 powder hungry skiers were assembled and eagerly awaiting the opening. Once we got clearance our group were the first guests on the mountain, shredding the knee deep wind buffed powder. Each guest carving their own signature in to the mountain…some short controlled turns, other fast and long arcs. An incredible first run. Throughout the day we chose fresh lines just outside the ski area boundary, picking our way through perfectly spaced birch trees and open bowls. Although, we were skiing with a very large crowd of tourists, we felt isolation and a true backcountry experience just off the gondola ski area. This is why we are here.
Day 10, Gulmarg
After 10 days of continuous powder seeking and skiing, a welcomed rest day. With a combination of long resort runs, and extended back bowls coupled with amazing cultural experiences, its nice to take a rest and soak it all in. We have had clear beautiful days with views of the distant Himalaya. Nanga Parbat (the 8th highest mountain) oversees our travels and provides an beautiful landscape where ever we go. For the past 10 days we’ve had a couple of snow showers but not the typical dumps that Gulmarg is known for. That is all about to change tomorrow. 2 meters of snow are expected for the next three days. The snowpack remains unstable but hopefully enough load will refresh the entire area with deep stable snow.
We have been taking advantage of the clear long days by taking extended tours. Each morning we are given box lunches that sustain us for the entire day. We venture just off the beaten path to seldom traveled areas. Each day, my guest and I see terrain that many of the ski tourists will never see. Long bowls of fresh powder in all directions. Yesterday, we ski toured down to the local village of Drang. We are greeted by curious children and hardened women who keep the Kashmir valley in line. While the men congregate in Gulmarg in search of the tourist dollar, the women care for the home, feed the kids and take care of the livestock. It is a somewhat rare sight to share stories with the women of Kashmir.
Again, I am reminded of the incredible opportunity that skiing has provided for the people of this valley. It has transformed this otherwise quiet and uneventful winter into a mecca for traveling powder seekers, which in turn brings more money and opportunity to the people.
To many people of India and the developing world, skiing is a foreign thought or luxurious lifestyle. While to the people of Kashmir it is a life sustaining necessity.
Settling into the Kashmir valley of Gulmarg, I anticipate the powder frenzy ahead. With a large group of Ex-pat ski bums coming from all over the world, the fresh tracks are harder and harder to find. Brian Newman and Gulmarg Ski Patrol have installed an instrumental avalanche control program to keep the slopes of Gulmarg safe. However, one can imagine the difficulties of obtaining explosives and being able to implement this program one 4 miles from the Line of Control between the highly politically fragile area between India and Pakistan.
While the Ski Patrol waits for explosives thus the upper phase of the gondola opening, me and my co-guides explore the lower elevation trees and some touring options below town. We find pillow lines of fresh snow atop downed trees and rock bands. Excellent skiing quality given the refresh of snow each evening. Despite the top ups every evening, we still feel very skeptical of the stability in the alpine regions but given the terrain we have plenty of options. Each night, we return to our cozy rooms heated with the wood fired bukari’s and dinners that please the palette.
On my fourth day of skiing at altitude, me and my crew decide to take a rest day. As I settle into a good book and a mellow afternoon, I am startled by shaking windows and a bellowing that rocks the Gulmarg valley. I tune into the Ski Patrol radio and quickly they are through most of the their bomb routes and quickly anticipate opening the upper phase of the Gondola. A 3000 ft pitch of open bowls and keep deep powder. I instantly dress up, run out the door and get up the mountain to join the other powder frothers. The energy is at a fever with a stoked international group of riders. Game on in Gulmarg.
Two days later, we still find fresh tracks in the controlled bowls of the ski area, but decide to tour to the summit of Mt. Apharwat to take in the views of the Himalayas with Nanga Parbat towering over the Kashmir valley (8th highest mountain in the world). We find an isolated bowl with fresh tracks in all direction. We are humbled by the tower mountains all around us and find solace in the silence that they provide us.
A large storm is on the horizon which is what we all look forward to. All in all, a perfect experience thus far……