HATCHER PASS — With the white stuff is creeping down the mountains, mountaineers are flocking to ski swaps near and far for a chance at a good deal on gear for the winter.
The slopes in the Valley’s main attraction for winter sports, Hatcher Pass, have already been graced with six inches of snow up at the Marmot snow stake at 3,000 feet of elevation. At the Alaska Airlines Center on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus, residents of Anchorage were stocking up on skis that will have to commute to Hatcher Pass for the first turns of the ski season.
“As far as like the front range here goes or you’re kind of waiting a little bit longer, having to go a little bit further but Hatcher, snowbird is ripped right now so that’s pretty sweet to get your first turns in,” Daniel Barton said.
Hpavalanche.org reports that nine inches of snow has fallen up at Gold Cord lake at 4,050 feet of elevation. The snow that fell on Hatcher Pass during last weekend’s dusting sits on five to 15 centimeters of surface facets. As backcountry enthusiasts get their first taste of winter thrills, locals in the Valley are also preparing for a first this winter when the Skeetawk Ski Area drops the first skier or snowboarder off at the top of the chair lift.
“I wish those guys all the best. It’s encouraging that someone is putting in that kind of effort to get a brand new ski area up and running,” said Anchorage Ski Club Rich Todd running a booth for Arctic Valley Ski Area. “We know how hard it is to run a ski area on a limited budget and they’re going to go through the same things. Their first year with this new lift they’re going to have a great time, then when they can add the additional lifts it’s going to be a spectacular area and Hatcher Pass gets a ton of snow.”
While skiers from the Valley are regulars on the road runs at 16 mile and ‘Paradise’ and additional groomed ski hills are available at the parking lot near the Hatcher Pass Lodge, Anchorageites know Hatcher Pass as the less crowded haven of winter sports in the early season.
“If you live in Anchorage and you’re recreational, Hatcher Pass is such a special place for just, year round the climbing up there is amazing. It’s nice to get away and not have huge crowds and then the skiing, I mean to be totally honest Hatcher kind of sketches me out a little bit. It’s rippin’ hard up there and like deep into the winter I’m kind of skiing Turnagain more and that’s just conditioning level, but it’s awesome. It’s a fun place to go skiing up there,” Barton said.
The Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center also reported three glide cracks on Skyscraper, El Dorado Bowl and Marmot Mountain that have at least partially fallen. Todd and Anchorage Ski Club Board of Directors member Kevin Keeler stood behind a booth for Arctic Valley Ski area that is run as a non profit for public benefit, similar to Skeetawk in Hatcher Pass. Another similarity is veteran of five decades on the ski patrol at Arctic Valley Dave Henderson. Todd and Keeler are amazed at Henderson’s tenacity for his skiing longevity and often get out to the slopes in Hatcher Pass for fresh powder turns.
“You have different places that you can fall back on, so you’ve got down south, you’ve got the front range, Arctic Valley, and then you’ve got up at Hatcher and they’re three really different ski settings because of the geography and the weather system,” Keeler said.
The ski swap scene offers an opportunity for backcountry enthusiasts to switch out their gear and prepare for a winter in the mountains which likely begins in Hatcher Pass.