Eagle Glacier Epic

Two things defined our first training camp of the summer on Eagle Glacier – incredibly crazy weather, and incredibly good skiing.

When I think of June, I think of summer sun, lush green trees, and hours of dryland training.  This week, it’s been in the 80’s every day in Anchorage and you can almost see the heat hanging in the air.  Even way up here in Alaska, the months of June through August form a pretty well defined season that more or less follows the traditional rules of summer.

All the rules go out the window on Eagle Glacier.

It’s mind boggling how you can take a 45 minute drive from Anchorage, hop on a helicopter for five minutes, and enter a completely different world.   We flew up to Eagle Glacier Sunday morning with sunny skies and an excited crew looking forward to a great week of skiing together.   The helicopter flight up was stunningly beautiful as always, and its always exciting to crest the ridge and get the first glimpse of the glacier.

Sadie, Chelsea, and I on the flight up

Sadie, Chelsea, and I on the flight up

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Landing up on the glacier, with some pretty good weather.  Man those helicopters are cool.

We had good weather for the flight up on Sunday, but a few of us noticed something interesting on the forecast.  A big coastal storm was set to hit Southcentral Alaska starting Sunday night.  Coastal storms in Alaska can be weird – in the winter, they can warm temperatures in Anchorage up to 50F and bring wind and rain.  In the summer, they can cool things down to 50F… and bring wind and rain.  The influence of the ocean outweighs the influence of season, and the storms can have a mind of their own.  The weather apps showed five days of clouds and rain in Girdwood.  What that meant for us was anyone’s guess – at a mile above sea level on top of a mountain ridge, they don’t really make forecasts for Eagle Glacier.

At around 5 pm on Sunday, some clouds came over and brought a bout of hail.  Then the fog rolled in, and it started to snow.  That was the last time we saw anything for five days.

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The view out of the window Sunday evening.  It stayed like this for five days.

People talk about whiteout conditions all the time, when driving, alpine skiing, and the like.  On a glacier, being in a whiteout takes on entirely new meaning.  When the clouds roll in on Eagle Glacier, it’s in a league of its own.  A perfectly smooth landscape of white and a sky of perfect matching white.  You look down at your skis, and its hard to tell whether you are in fact skiing on the snow, or floating above, swimming through a white ether.

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Reese Hanneman and I post skate ski, in the whiteout

It snowed every day, for five days in a row, from Sunday to Thursday, leaving us with three feet of fresh midwinter snow… in mid June.  My sense of season got so turned around by the weather that by the end of the week I had Christmas songs stuck in my head.

I’ve made a big deal of the wild whiteout conditions last week, as have many other blogs.  However, what really defined the week for me more than the weather, was the incredibly good skiing.  Even in the whiteout, Erik Flora groomed fresh tracks for every workout and the skiing was great all week.  On Friday, the clouds started to lift, and the world around came into definition for the first time.

The clouds started to lift, and all at once - we saw the full glory of where we were.

When the skiing is good on Eagle, it might be the best place to ski in the world.  World cup terrain, and amazing views at every turn.  This was the first time the clouds lifted, and light conditions went from whiteout to hyper-definition.  For reference, the training center building is at the top of the ridge (out of view, where the distant trail connects to the ridge) on the left side of the picture.

On the glacier, one or two sunny days can define an entire week, and on this trip, that was definitely the case.  Selective memory is an amazing thing.  The clouds broke on Friday revealing an amazing world of new snow.   It is really rare to have both fresh snow and clear skies on the Glacier, but when it happens, those days are magic!

In the timelapse below, the little dots moving around are skiers.

 

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At the top of the course you get a view over the edge of the glacier down at the world below.

A 180 degree panorama.  From left, the Thomas Training Center where we live on the glacier, the glacier itself and ski trails in the middle, and a skier at the start of the trail to the far right.

A 180 degree panorama. From left, the Thomas Training Center where we live on the glacier, the glacier itself and ski trails in the middle, and a skier at the start of the trail to the far right.   All told there was close to 10k of groomed skiing.

Friday evening, the weather was really starting to clear, and the forecast was looking good for a sunny OD on Saturday.

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Erik Flora working his magic grooming the upper loops of the course.

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Sunday morning, the weather lived up to the promise and the skies broke clear and blue!

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T-shirt skiing!

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Tyler Kornfield holding a strong pace for the OD.

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The views around the course are incredible.

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At the end of a 55k ski, happy to be done!

After a good OD and 25 hours of skiing in the week it was time to head home for recovery.  On the way in from the OD, I snagged this shot of the Training Center overlooking the Chugach Mountains.  It is an incredible resource for Alaska Pacific University to have its own glacier training center, and we are very lucky to have close access to great skiing in summer.  Thanks to Erik, Dylan, and Andre for working tireless hours, and making it a great week!

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Our home for the week, the Thomas Training Center overlooking the Chugach Mountains.  The training center has everything you need for a productive camp, with hot showers, a sauna, comercial kitchen, and even a small weight room!

 

2 thoughts

  1. Eric, Gwen and I were looking up the Thomas training center and saw your blog. It’s very impressive and we are very impressed by you and your success. We miss our relationship with the Packer family with you ,Karina, Reed and Lies. Annie, Karina’s friend, works with me as a scribe in the emergency department and keeps me informed. The Hanleys send our best to the Packers.

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