There are few mountain ranges in the world that deliver some of the most impressive terrain, lightest snow, and mind-blowing skiing like Alaska. For the last 30 years, I’ve been exploring and documenting skiing and snowboarding in Alaska by foot, boat, airplane, and helicopter to capture the amazing light, incredible fluted spines, and fairly stable maritime snowpack.
The following photos span a period of time from the late ’80s in Valdez and the first airplane and heli-skiing venues, exploring the Chilkat Mountains near Haines in the late ’90s, to the present-day, using foot-powered expeditions and boats to forge deeper into the heart and soul of Alaska’s skiing opportunities.
The Last Frontier
For many skiers and snowboarders, the first glimpse you see when you reach Thompson Pass is this impressive expanse of huge ramps and fluted peaks of the Chugach mountains. To the novice, it reveals all of the possibilities that skiing’s Last Frontier has to offer. To those that have witnessed the iconic lines in magazines and movies, it offers the opportunity to finally test themselves against that fabled terrain.
1996 World Extreme Skiing Championships
The World Extreme Skiing Championships was conceived by Mike Cozad and was the first skiing competition of its kind, and would go on to define a new genre in the sport, “big mountain” skiing. Cozad was the visionary owner of the original Tsaina Lodge. Along with Alaskan bush pilot Chuck McMahan, Cozad would start operating heli and plane skiing excursions on Thompson Pass from the lodge in the late ’80s. With a group of friends, they singlehandedly created the thriving industry it is today with over five heli operations in the area.
Paid in Poker Chips
The scene at Alaska Backcountry Adventures in 1989. Operated by Alaskan bush pilot Doug Brewer, the operation offered unguided and guided skiing to the intrepid skiers and snowboarders who paid using poker chips to access the terrain off of Thompson Pass.
A helicopter drops athletes from an unnamed peak, leaving snow vapor trails on its way to the landing zone below Thompson Pass.
Todd Jones, co-founder of Teton Gravity Research (TGR), captures a first descent of his brother, infamous big mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones, during the filming of “Mind the Addiction.” The Tyler Mount he’s using, a stabilized camera platform for Arri Flex 16mm film camera, was state-of-the-art equipment in 2001 when this shot was taken and shooting “doors off” was common practice.
Kevin Quinn, Micah Black, and Dan Treadway ski the steep 45-degree ridge of Pontoon Peak, one of the iconic lines in the Chugach, while filming in Cordova with Warren Miller Entertainment and Points North Heli.
Jeremy Nobis descends one of the many fluted spines during an exploration of Haines in 2002. TGR and its athletes were instrumental in pioneering the area and opening many first descents in the late ’90s, many of which are still revered today. Nobis was a U.S. Ski Team member who redefined big-mountain skiing by opening up steep terrain with high-speed GS turns and creating a whole new style to big-mountain skiing.
The guides and pilots of Alaska had a huge influence on opening up terrain and skiing in Alaska to the public. One of the female veterans of the game is Kristen Kramer, who’s been guiding consistently for over 31 years with Valdez Heli Ski Guides.
Shane McConkey was an athlete who helped to shape Alaskan skiing with his hard charging, aggressive style during the filming of “The Hedonist” for Matchstick Productions.
Diamond Peak Couloirs
Last one to the bottom buys the rounds. Todd Ligare and Girffin Post ski the formidable Diamond Peak couloirs simultaneously during the filming of TGR’s “The Dream Factory.” Mount Diamond is a coveted zone in Valdez’s Chugach Mountains.
What would Alaska be without fresh grilled salmon and shrimp with cold beer on a deserted beach in Prince William Sound?
Full Speed Descent
Gordy Pieffer attacks a large ramp in Valdez during the filming of TGR’s “Uprising”.
Chris Benchetler makes the best of a down day during the filming of TGR’s “Dream Factory” to explore the tidal flats in Haines.
Exploring Prince William Sound
Lynsey Dyer enjoys the perfect corn and ocean views during an exploratory boat trip skiing untapped lines in Prince William Sound.
Greg Von Doersten takes in the views en route home after another epic day in the Chugach Mountains with Valdez Heli Ski Guides.
*Jackson, Wyoming based photographer Greg Von Doersten has been an influential adventure photographer for longer than some of our readers have been skiing. He’s traveled the world with top athletes and for a high-profile client list that include National Geographic, Red Bull, and NBC.