“Welcome to Alaska,” Dean Cummings said.
I was halfway down a chute in an iconic Thompson Pass, AK zone known as “The Pages.” He was tucked in behind a rock, hardly visible as I slid by, cautiously navigating in an out of a ribbon of slough and waist-deep snow on the toeside wall. An hour prior, we’d been sitting on the couch at the Valdez Best Western, climbing harnesses on, nervously watching clouds roll in and out of Prince William Sound. A short window of clearing had given us the green light—a quick flight out, low over the Richardson Highway, and the helicopter left us an a quiet ridgetop at the entrance to the Valley of the Tusk, the location of so many iconic video parts in the ‘90s and beyond and the center of Dean’s stomping grounds for the past two decades. It was jarringly quiet as we stared down the chute and Dean did a little snow stability work. Welcome to Alaska indeed.
With me were Ryan Wilson from Mervin MFG, Mike Crowe of Whistler-Blackcomb, our own Matt Wibby and Ride Snowboards’ Sean Tedore. This was a special trip for Tedore—beyond being his first time in a heli, in AK no less, he was coming off a progressive total knee replacement surgery. He had been riding a bit, but this would test that bionic knee. I suppose if you’re going to ride with some new internal hardware, you might as well do it in the dreamland that is Thompson Pass.
We had spent close to a week waiting for the weather to break as it dumped in the alpine. We passed our time in town, mingling with the local wildlife, listening to a terrain management presentation by Dean, doing a splitboard lap and digging a few snow pits with snowboard guide Jason Champion up at the pass, even singing a little karaoke in the all-nighter cigarette den of The Pipeline Club. This was our payoff.
At the bottom, Mike greeted me with a high five as we watched Matt and Tedore drop. Seemed his knee was doing just fine. Once everyone was safely through h the crux and down to the pickup zone, Dean worked rider’s right and popped a little air, swooping down and calling in the helicopter for another go. Similar lines stacked out the ridge as far as the eye can see. And although we were only able to ride one more of them before weather moved in, it was worth every hour of waiting—there’s no better way to cap your season than on the steeps of AK.
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