On October 19th-20th, Girdwood received its first storm of the season where a significant amount snow accumulated and has stuck around at sea level. The storm dropped about 10 inches of wet heavy snow in town. Normally 10 inches wouldn’t be enough for anybody to actually ski unless you wanted to blow out your edge or a knee, but when you have a plethora of glaciers in the nearby valleys, it makes skiing very possible.
Crow Pass is home to one of those glaciers, Jewel Glacier, nestled around 4,500 feet above Girdwood Valley. This glacier is fairly unique due to its easy access, meaning it does not require the normal tools that you would usually need to have to safely ascend the ice. For the most part, Jewel has a fairly mellow, un-cracked ramp leading up the right side and to the top of the glacier. The left side is much more cracked but still navigable. The pitch varies in slope angle and does not get much steeper than 35 degrees. It’s also an eastern facing aspect. This makes it a relatively safe option for early season skiing as far as stability goes. The approach to the glacier is much more exposed, especially during the middle of winter, so travel is only recommended during these early-season months.
The trail through Crow Pass is about 4-5 miles long to reach Jewel glacier. The parking lot at the trail head starts at about 1,000 feet, and the top of the glacier is a little over 4,500 feet. The trail starts off with a steeper climb for a couple miles, then mellows out for a long traverse across the valley up into crow pass. This traverse is the most exposed part of the hike due to a very steep pitch above the trail and a very deep gorge below. So, if any instabilities were to propagate, especially in mid winter, there would be absolutely no chance of survival. Once you get to the top of Crow Pass, you’re still exposed but the lack of terrain traps makes it much friendlier to tour. At the top of the pass you still have another 1,000 feet up one of the connecting valleys before you reach Jewel.
When we arrived at Jewel we were amazed by the depth and quality of the snow. It was about 18-24 inches of “right-side up” low density snow. Some areas had a slight wind crust but it was hardly noticeable. It was absolutely unreal and unique to be skiing that type of snow in October. Last season did not produce anything of the sort. The skies were cloudy in the morning then broke to bluebird in the afternoon. The air temp stayed at a great temperature throughout the day at around 28 degrees, keeping that snow nice and light throughout the day. We ended up taking two laps on the glacier which provided some all time skiing and many glacial facials!
On the way out the wind really started to pick up and had already covered our skin track from the climb up. The snow was beginning load on eastern aspect very rapidly. Tomorrow’s conditions will be much different.