Alyeska Resort again pulls out all the stops and doles out another ticket to ride on the big mountain fun show. On April 11th a suprise happened, and Alyeska opened the New Year’s chute for the first time since 2012! This chute delivers some serious big-boy skiing and it isn’t a short run. Dropping 1348 vertical feet the chute is just shy of half a mile making it a technical, playful, demanding, steep run in the heart of the North Face.
Anyone who yearns for this kind of big gun skiing and peruses the North Face wouldn’t miss this magnificently captivating couloir sitting just behind Christmas Chute. This mighty chute is iconic and a classic at Alyeska, though it hasn’t seen much skiing in the recent years due to snow conditions. Its been a cold winter in Alaska with lots of dry cold smoke powder so the snow was a boon to open the chute. Ski patrol worked hard, and gave us this beauty to rip.
It was a beautiful bluebird spring day. The sun was cresting the shadows headwall softening the snow and warming our blood in the crisp morning air. With coffee in hand I was in line for first chair, waiting for the opening of the lift. Almost everyone seemed to be there to take a ride down the New Year’s chute.
Just before the first upload the lift operator was gracious enough to let us hear ski patrol’s morning radio announcement. We listened carefully to his radio and were stoked to hear that New Years chute was going to open right away. The existing excitement was amplified with this spoken reality and the word was eagerly passed down the line. It really was going to be a happy New Year! It was so exciting and the visibility was perfect. I had a hard time remembering the details of this mega chute since it had been 5 years from the last opening.
Unloading the Glacier Bowl Express at the top of the mountain, I headed for the newly opened terrain. I kept my legs moving fast to get a bit of a warm up for the first run of the day. The chute entrance is close to the lift and the instant opening made it a much needed affair. At the top of Christmas chute we stopped for a quick briefing by patrol about New Year’s chute so that we had good beta on the run close at hand.
Second in line to drop, I paused for a moment to check out the terrain and eyed the snow conditions. It looked soft silky cold and it stretched high up the sides of the highly featured walls. Excitement overwhelmed me; and with butterflies in my belly I picked my line. It looked so much bigger than I had remembered. A friend who was the first to drop in sent it fast down the chute. I counted to 15 then dropped into the alluring gut and laid some buttery turns in the velvety boot deep powder. A bit lower the snow was spongy, consolidated and mostly dry. Slough built up easily in the steepness and you could definitely ride it down. It was boot to shin deep love. Billy goating around in the cliff aspects lower in the chute I found some hard crusty snow, it was chalky and just a bit icy but held an edge. The chute itself was completely rip-able, fast and absolutely huge; totally chock-full of snow!
After getting vertical on the high walls and blasting into the deep snowy gut, I played on my slough for a few turns. I then heard someone yelling; Ski…Ski! I paused and looked up the chute to see a ski dashing right at us. I watched it descend about fifty yards picking up speed. There was no skier in sight and ski brakes were useless in this steep zone. The third skier in the chute passed me at that moment. After stopping I looked down to see my cohorts slowing before the zig-zagged choke at the bottom of the chute. The ski was still hurtling directly toward us so I made the decision to try for a sports central moment and dove for the ski. It had just about passed me but somehow I got some purchase on it. I had caught the heal-piece with my thumb while landing on my face. This wasn’t the face shot I was looking for, but I was glad we were safe and the guy missing his ski didn’t have to descend the whole couloir on one plank. I stuck the ski in the side of the chute and looked at my glove for blood. There was none to be found and my thumb wasn’t broken so I called the tackle a success. I was sure glad I was wearing leather gloves.
Skiing down toward the choke the slough was getting deeper. I paused to let the second skier ski through. Pushing some snow ahead of me I made two turns and exited the choke with a bunch of speed. The exit was directly into hard, chalky, sculpted snow with a little duff on top. I scrubbed speed through the chunks of debris that were very apparent and vaguely covered. It scared me and the pinball game started fast at that speed. It’s spring here in Alaska and the conditions were holding true. It was chilly and frozen in the New Year’s shaded hollow so it isn’t a zone for the meek.
After navigating the softening frozen terrain out to the Autobahn, I hopped on the tram for another lap. By the time I arrived again at New Year’s people were now lining up at the top. The sun was starting to creep down into the mouth of the chute and it warmed our backs as we peered into the cold snow of the couloir.
At this point ski patrol was giving a wide berth between skiers and also had a patroller stationed before the choke to avoid a cluster. People were lined up with with fruitful anticipation. I waited my turn and ripped it faster than before catching some good air. I knew the conditions were bomber.
Earlier I had received a tip that traversing out of the chute before the choke to the Elephants Trunk and the Facet would be a good idea. As I approached the choke I cut across the steep face toward the trunk but stopped on the steep sugary face between the trees to watch the others play in the fun. The choke was a bit scraped out and now a rock was showing in the middle. It couldn’t have been more than 10 feet wide and now was deeply troughed with little snow, so side slipping it was a bit dicey. It looked really fun, so I flipped my skis the other way and descended back to the choke. I just couldn’t give up the chance to ski it when it was super technical. With some funky maneuvers a few hop turns I was cruising out the bottom. By now the ski to the Autobahn was getting soft in the warm air so it now could be skied much faster. The snow quickly became smooth and forgiving.
I didn’t get my fill just yet so I had to hit a third lap in the chute. It was just too much fun! This time I traversed out on the Elephants trunk and skied the tight wall on the rib next to the facet. The snow was variable and techy but mostly soft and supple. The out to the tram this round was really getting mushy and fun. It was such a glorious run I decided to call it a day. I just had to leave the reality right there because this was one of the best New Year’s I have ever had.