Mt. Saint Elias: The Longest Ski Run in the World

Cameron Griffin | BackcountryBackcountry
Elevation grapic
A perfect shot of Mount Saint Elias. Photo courtesy of Redbull

You might not guess where the longest ski run is in the world. But to this day, Mt. Saint Elias holds the record at 18,008 feet. Located in a remote area on the Yukon and Alaskan border. While it should be noted native Tlingit people named it Yasʼéitʼaa Shaa, which means “mountain behind icy bay.” Predictably it has a massive ice flow at the base, which runs into Icy Bay.

Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi, was the first to climb the remote peak. You may recognize the name from the popular K2 Abruzzi ridge route, which is named after him. Undoubtedly climbing Mt. Saint Elias in 1897 was quite the accomplishment. Hardly easy and wasn’t repeated until 1946 by the Harvard Mountaineering Club. The winter accent also taking some a while but finally accomplished in 1996 by David Briggs, Gardner Heaton, and Joe Reichert. With that in mind, it’s rarely climbed. Consequently, bad weather and difficult climbing conditions such as rockfall and avalanche danger add to the death-defying climb.

Lorne Glick, Andy Ward, and James Bracken claimed the first ski descent off the summit in May of 2000. They skied off the north side “Mira Face” down to the Bagley Ice field 10,900 feet below. Another ski descent was attempted off the south side by Aaron Martin, Reid Sanders, and John Griber. Unfortunately, that expedition ended in tragedy with Sanders and Martin dying on the route down.

skier on the longest ski run
Here you can see Ryan Bougie on the south side of the mountain going for the longest ski run. Photo courtesy of Peter Inglis.

Later on, in 2009, Axel Naglich, Peter Ressmann, and Jon Johnston attempted a southern descent funded by Redbull. They were flown up to the Haydon Shoulder at 9,842 feet. Sadly there was a lack of team cohesion, and Jon felt Axel was making poor decisions on the descent from Haydon’s Shoulder to sea segment. Jon decided to bail after a failed summit attempt. In which they faced blizzard conditions that could have trapped them on the mountain for an unknown time. Axel and Peter returned months later and were able to ski from the summit to the Haydon Shoulder. Since the lower part was air-assisted and the ski line is broken into segments months apart, some question this descents legitimacy. Nonetheless, it’s still a feat accomplished by few.

SnowBrains also did an article on my favorite mountaineers Mark and Janelle Smiley. Where they climbed and skied the south side along with Jed Porter. In the link above, you can watch their adventures on skiing the longest ski run in the world.

North side
You can understand the prominence from a distance. Photo courtesy of Ian Altman

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