Could You Ski Meteorite Peak in Valdez, AK?

Miles Clark | | Featured ArticleFeatured Article
Meteorite, AK. April 2012. Miles Clark and Andy Brook's tracks. photo: mike hamilton
Meteorite, AK. April 2012. Miles Clark and Andy Brook’s tracks. photo: mike hamilton

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 different.  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 on a very fat year.
The drop in on Meteorite on a very fat year.  photo:  scott markewitz

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

Meteorite Mountain, AK in April 2012. photo: miles clark/snowbrains
Meteorite Mountain, AK in April 2012. photo: miles clark/snowbrains

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 aren’t fully believing it.

Meteorite. That first step is a dousy...
Meteorite. That first step is a doozy…

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 like 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.

That’s a lot of exposure on that left side
That’s a lot of exposure on that left side

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.

Looking back up at Meteorite.
Looking back up at Meteorite.

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…”


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22 thoughts on “Could You Ski Meteorite Peak in Valdez, AK?

  1. If I were to give it a go, I’d hafta wear my ‘brown’ ski pants.

    Nice writing, you really captured the experience.

    MB

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  2. You know the entire spine was ski toured. Go ahead be a big heli skier. Hike it player.

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    +1 (1 vote)
    1. Quinner. I haven’t skied Pontoon nor Shinx yet. You should write us up a piece on each for us. They’re certainly legendary!

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  3. I love it! Yesterday Unofficial Networks copies & paste their homepage picture to the Books Range and Pontoon Peak.
    Today, SNOWBRAINS has a original article(NOT Copied & Paste) covering Meteorite.

    I don’t even waste my time opening up any of the posts over at UN, it’s all garbage copied and pasted from the web.

    Snowbrains is on point, thanks Miles
    MR. A2daK

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  4. What a line Miles! Nice writing!! that exposure on skiers right at the spine is terrific! Much Respect!

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  5. More incredible is local heli-free skier Jordan Pond who has climbed and skied Meteorite 7 times in the past 5 years. That’s what Snow Brain should report. Chris Larson of Valdez is credited with the first ascent in 1984 with Jim McMahan.. Pat Levy climbed it solo a year later.

    Lots of Valdez’s special peaks get skied without a rotor assist because it can. Heli is another skier word for “can’t”.

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    +3 (3 votes)
  6. Hey Miles, its Hoover. Thanks for bringing that day back to me in such a well written piece, my palms were sweaty all over again. I had another epic year w/ Jerry / Black Ops crew in AK this last week. all i can say is, i will be returning once again!

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  7. Great article Miles, brings back memories! That steep cruzy chute still haunts me :). awesome day indeed!

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