[sponsored by Alyeska Resort]
Ah, Spring; a magical season when eager minds turn to only one thing…Alaska backcountry.
At storied Alyeska Resort and core boardshop Blue & Gold, the months of April and March, especially, teem with rippers arriving to answer the steep, deep call of Chugach National Forest and its Turnagain sector.
The national forest, of which thirty percent ice locked, is reported to receive an approximate 600 inches of precipitation annually, much of which accumulates as maritime snowpack upon alpine facets as sheer as sustained fifty-seven degree pitches—an arena for considerable avalanche activity.
Fortunately for the eager, veteran locals delve a wealth of avalanche knowledge from often imposing Chugach lands, and joining us to share his take on safe backcountry practice is an AK senior snow statesman, Jason Borgstede.
Owner of Blue & Gold Boardshop, ‘Borgy’ is a former X-Games medalist, life-long Alyeska shredder, and ardent supporter of Alaska snowboard culture.
You’ve ridden all over the state, and world, what’s the most critical factor in avalanche mitigation?
“The most critical factor in avalanche mitigation is paying attention to forecasters. These people have made a career of understanding our mountains and how they react to weather and condition changes.”
“They should be your first step in any backcountry outing.”
Riders and skiers relish the backcountry around Turnagain; is there a ‘core kit’ when entering that area, and what might be commonly overlooked?
“Have a beacon, shovel, probe, and a pack to carry it.”
“If anything is overlooked, it would be the sizes of the items you purchase. The smallest shovel seems great for weight and fitting in your pack but will kill your back when moving snow and, if in a rush, it won’t move much snow.”
So, Blue & Gold demos product at Alyeska Resort as well as around the state. Any tips on selecting dependable products for purchase?
“The most important thought is to stay away from ‘the Marts.’ The shovel you get from department stores will not be reliable for anything other than digging snow out from your front bumper in the parking lot.”
“My advice: head to a specialty store, emphasizing backcountry activities. If in Anchorage you can head to our shop, Blue & Gold Boardshop, or AMH and SkiAK. If at Girdwood check out Alyeska Mountain Sports or PowderHound.”
Upon setting out, how do you personally assess an aspect and approach?
“Since AK is where I spent a great deal of backcountry time, it is the place I’ve encountered the most avalanche prevalence.”
“My main standard is to check the report, looking for prior activity, terrain traps to avoid, and finding a route that avoids danger as much as possible.”
“I play it pretty safe and have been pretty lucky.”
So, when–seasonally or weather-wise—is prime window for entering Turnagain backcountry?
“Prime conditions are the spring.”
“I say spring because the sun is out the longest and allows riders to take advantage of great snow as well as feeling unrushed when it comes to snow evaluation. Ideally, I would love a good amount of snow to have fallen with a few days to settle and show weakness, if any.”
“What I don’t want to see are prior warming spells and certainly no rain/freeze/wind events.”
You’ve experienced a wide variety of snowboarding terrain. What makes Turnagain special?
“The terrain at Turnagain Pass can be amazing.”
“On the hiking side there is a great deal of terrain sheltered and anchored by trees. There is also terrain as gnarly as you want above tree line.”
“The region provides everything you could want to shred and almost always something to ride, even when conditions are dangerous in other places.”
Blue&Gold Boardshop appears regularly on Alyeska Resort slopes, and both are leading proponents of AK snow culture. How does backcountry education and interaction factor at Alaska’s largest commercial ski destination?
“Its outer areas, generally, follow conditions in the surrounding area, like Turnagain Pass. Ideally you need to always be aware of your surroundings, but Alyeska is a mountain where patrol does an extensive job with avalanche safety work, so I always feel confident just ripping around.”
“Also Alyeska has great ski patrol staff running snow safety, monthly dog demos, and hosting an event called Beacon and Eggs where they do initial avalanche safety introduction and education.”
“With ski patrol doing safety, anything open at Alyeska should be very stable.”
Returning focus off-piste, how do the intrigued learn more and get started?
“Newcomers to backcountry should start by asking staff at a local shop about gear and what they need to know. The staff should be able to go over necessities, difference in products, and give direction to the next step in education (avalanche safety courses).”
“At Blue & Gold we carry gear that we use, and see used so that we, personally, understand it and know it stands up to the demands of backcountry travel.”
You’ve been around the world for snow. Why do you choose to make AK your shred home?
“AK allows me access to people and community I love. Beyond that, AK provides a ton of amazing snowboarding within an hour, in every direction.”
“I have bonded with this state, our boarding community, and the people. AK is home.”
Ok. And what are AK’s greatest challenges to safe backcountry practice?
“Finding others willing to get training to learn how to rescue. Most people want to run up and shred some pow. Nobody likes doing beacon drills.”
“At Blue & Gold we try to make a fun event out of introducing people to educating themselves on safe backcountry practices.”
And why is education important?
“So you can stay alive.”
“If you don’t practice with your gear then performing in a high stress situation is unlikely. The more practice you have the calmer you will be and the better the chance to save lives.”
Looking forward, how can public improve reasonably safety in AK backcountry?
“Get the gear, get the knowledge, get the training, and know before you go. The backcountry holds un-crowded, prime powder conditions. Just understand that may not be a second chance once something goes wrong.”
“Don’t be scared to get out in the backcountry, it’s a fun and rewarding place to ride. Just be respectful of its power and the consequences.”
Learn more about amazing Alyeska Resort and nearby Turnagain Pass–as well as be advised on safe travel based upon current conditions–by visiting Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center. And know before you go.