When you get dropped off on top of Meteorite Mountain, you can see EVERYTHING: the town of Valdez, the oil tankers waiting in the bay, Thompson Pass, and the Chugach Range that’s bending out to the horizon. You can see everything but your line. You can see where you’d put the first turn. Then it drops off into nothingness.
The guides are acting differently. They’re going through extra safety checks and jabbering on the radio more than usual. The lead guide goes down, and he’s gone for 20 minutes. Then he starts sending the clients with less experience to side-slip down the steep cruxy chute and onto the open face of Meteorite. Almost an hour goes by with hoots, tumbles, lost gear, exhilaration, and declarations. You’ve gone nowhere, yet you’ve gone through every emotion you know. Your gut is twisted into knots, your mouth is dry, and you are waiting… just waiting.
Meteorite Mountain Stats:
– 50º sustained for 2,800 vertical feet.
– Spine has sections of 60º with very high exposure
– 3,000+ vertical feet top to bottom
– Located in Valdez, Alaska, USA
The guide finally radios up to you: “Listen, you can ski the spine! Don’t go through the crux where they went. Just traverse right and drop when I tell you.” You’re operating on total trust here. You haven’t ever really seen what you’re about to drop into. You know it’s the biggest line of your life. You’re trusting the guide to put you in the right position. You’re telling yourself that you are good enough to ski this line, but you don’t fully believe it.
You drop in blind. Your first turn is silent while your eyes burn to see anything more than 6 feet below you. It’s not there, and the second turn is hesitant and awkward. Your core is overly flexed, breathing is choked, and a light cold sweat initiates. Your third turn is crunchy and steeper, but you can start to see below you. A steep slope peppered with rocks drapes before you, the spine is to your left, you’re on a small face above a 2,000 vertical foot abyss. No fall zone… Refocus.
Every turn, you expect to hit rock and fall off the face. You’re deep in the backseat, skiing like a kook to ensure a fall would be uphill, not down. Somehow, you don’t hit rock. Your course was true, and you only scraped an exposed rock with your ski tips.
Dean Cummings wins “Best Line” on Meteorite Mountain’s Dragon Back spine in 2012.
You cut left to the spine. It’s corniced on the left side. You can’t nail it as Dean did, so you stay just right of the spine remaining exposed to the abyss. You’re getting more comfortable as you realize that the snow is perfect, and you’re on a flawless, seemingly endless 50º slope. The cornice on the spine backs off, you play with the spine, and you feel gravity doing the work for you. Falling, splashing, flexed, alert, alive. You’re completely focused on the moment while realizing this is by far the biggest line you have ever skied.
The radio crackles and brings you back to life. “Cut left! Get off the spine! Get into the chute! Cut Left!”
You immediately cut left and think you’re on a face. You’re not. The face morphs into a rib within 5 turns. You’re starting to get winded now. You’re breathing hard, and your cold sweat has turned into a hot one. Sluff is pouring down on either side of your rib, making a grinding sound that invigorates you. You keep dropping… it’s perfect.
Radio snaps again: “Left! Cut left! The rib you’re on ends in a small cliff and a bergshrund!”
You lean left and leave the best line that you’ve ever skied. Now you’re on the main face, and it’s seen some traffic and big sluffs. You cut back right under the ‘shrund and get a few more untouched pow turns before the steepness backs off and you’re skiing down sluffed out runnels.
“Yeeeaaaaahhhh,” yells the guide on the radio. You can tell he’s more relieved than you are.
When you look back up, it’s impossible to believe that you were on top of that thing 7 minutes ago. A new drug has been tried and a new high reached.
All you can think now is, “Eh, I shoulda skied that better…”