By Chad Harder for Seward City News -
SEWARD, Alaska – Anyone moving to Seward should catch on pretty quick that the best way through our long dark winter is to make the most of it. Skiing, dogsledding, skating, hiking, snowmachining, whatever, the key to avoiding cabin fever is to head outside, get some weather on your face and challenge yourself in the surrounding mountains. But while we’re almost through it, this winter been an uncooperative doozie.
By all accounts a bizarre winter, Alaska logged the third warmest and eighth wettest January on record. Seward hit 61 degrees on January 26, a new high. February didn’t bring much winter either. So instead of skiing the Seward-side of Racer Point, Seward’s backcountry skiers have been shredding neck-deep Devil’s Club… and honing the art of wintertime pricker-extraction, too.
Such unseasonable temperatures had me a little nervous when Zach and Danielle, two friends from Anchorage, came down for a long-planned trip to ski mountains in the great Seward amphitheater. They always show us a good time and take us to exciting new places when we visit them, so we really hoped to return the favor. Perhaps we head directly toward Seward’s most ogled mountain, Mount Alice?
If you’ve walked through Seward’s harbor or down Waterfront Park on a sunny day you’ve stared at the grandeur of this 5,265-foot massif across the bay. What local icon would be better to show our friends? So despite a late start and mediocre snowpack, we headed for turns on Alice’s hard-to-get-to-but-easy-to-ski southwestern flank. Things looked grim as we arrived at the trailhead and found John Wayne Bobbit: just four inches on the ground.
We weren’t optimistic and considered bailing, but ended up slapping on the skins and clicking into our skis right at the road. Fortunately there was enough snow on the trail to keep the skis on the whole way, and despite a few challenging sections we made quick work of the steep climb through old growth Hemlock and Spruce. With exposed roots and rocks everywhere, we realized early on that we would have to carry our skis down. Soon we crested a rise, the terrain flattened and the forest opened up. Glad to have finished the first uphill grind, we regrouped before heading straight up through park like meadows. Here we gained extraordinary views of the bay, town and the glaciated valley of Mount Alice’s southwest bowl.
Above us rose our destination, and another thirty minutes of skinning/schwacking through the alder later and we crested a rise at 2100′. Here a deep, somewhat concealed fissure gaped between the rocks. My babe Kara had marked this feature on her GPS last summer with the heading “Death Hole,” a reference to what would happen if someone skied into it. We stepped gingerly across the snow bridge one at a time and continued up.
Another half hour of climbing later and we crested the last ridge of the day, the dramatic matterhorn of Alice finally dominating our view. To the rear, the entirety of Resurrection Bay and endless rows of mountains sprawled to the horizon. We identified as many peaks and features as we could… and lamented the fact that all of them needed a lot more snow to be skiable.
With our “Crack of Noon” start, the sun was already low in the West and the wind was beginning to cut through us. So we ripped our skins and began our descent, a fun, easy slope and stable snowpack with no avalanche concerns. Together we linked long, charging arcs through firm, creamy snow and occasional rocks.
When we dropped below treeline, the sun was nearly down. We combat-skied until we could ski no further, clicked out, strapped skis to packs, and booted all the way back to the rig, where cold beers chilled.
To get to the trailhead, drive to Nash Road Milepost 3 and park at the other-side trailhead. Cross the road, get on the trail and climb the mountain! Skis, snowshoes, spikes and/or ski poles are recommended.