Springtime is finally here in Alaska with snow and ice almost completely melted in Anchorage. Trees and bushes are beginning to bud as greenery slowly takes its hold, but the mountains are still snow-capped and freezing nights create the perfect conditions for crust skiing at higher elevations. Elizabeth and I took a few days off in late April hoping the weather would be perfect for crust skiing in Broad Pass and ventured north to Denali State Park for a car camping ski adventure!
Snow forms a solid crust on top when there is enough melt during the day and then a cold enough temperature to freeze at night. Some years the window for crust activities lasts a few weeks or a month, while other years it is non-existent. We’ve already had the chance to crust ski a few times closer to Anchorage, but now that the temperatures have been consistently above freezing we were worried that this final winter sport was done for the season.
Then Elizabeth remembered her Aunt Janice’s adventures crust biking in Broad Pass last year, and we planned a hopeful long weekend. The stars aligned when I bought my new Subaru Ascent with a perfect crust skiing weather forecast for Broad Pass and Denali State Park. Our friends Zak and Gil helped outfit the trunk with a collapsible bed that turned this new vehicle into the perfect Alaskan adventure mobile. With Janice’s recommendation of skiing at mile 201 on the Parks Highway, we camped right on the highway, ready for a grand adventure!
Car camping never felt so luxurious with a full-size platform roomy enough for us and Theo. Elizabeth woke up in the middle of the night noticing a brilliant aurora display through the windows. She managed to wake me for a moment but I was exhausted from driving and excited to ski. I went back to sleep telling myself, “tomorrow will be better for aurora.”
A few hours later the sun came up and we made a quick breakfast before walking across the highway to the western side of Broad Pass. Denali was out in full force with beautiful blue skies and the entire Alaska Range in view.
The hardest part of the whole adventure was trudging through the snowpack near the road. There were plenty of post holes and a few snow-machine tracks to dodge between the brush, but just a short way from the road everything cleared up. Flat snow-filled meadows and lakes sprouted between lines of spruce creating the perfect channel to ski up and down.
As we skied along the meadows there were loud womps that would sound randomly. Sometimes I would step down with one ski and the whole ground vibrated like an earthquake! It was a little unsettling and made us worry about avalanches, but then we realized we were in a flat area clear of danger. The whomping sounds are actually from the snow settling between any cracks. One time, the womp was so big that the trees in front of us started shaking! We checked the earthquake list and there were no new ones so it was definitely a snow womp.
I tried to convince Theo to join her in a quintessential Alaskan montage of skiing with a dog in front of Denali but Theo decided he’d rather hang out with me. Denali felt close, close enough that we could ski all the way to it. But the drone gave a new perspective to help realize how far that massive mountain still was. Sure, we were in Denali State Park, but the mountain itself sits within Denali National Park and was probably 50 or more miles from us.
Elizabeth skied up one meadow and through the trees while I followed her framing more of the Alaska Range behind her. The video was coming out great, but Elizabeth must have sensed that I really wanted to start skiing myself and headed back to me.
We spent the rest of the morning exploring the rolling terrain and could hardly believe the view. Denali often hides behind haze and overcast weather, but today there wasn’t a cloud in the sky!
Theo’s tongue lolled about as we came to a riverbank. Perhaps this was the Susitna River or some other major tributary still frozen and snow-covered from the long winter. Either way, we decided not to risk crossing it but instead followed it north back towards our car.
Despite my recent foray with the ditch and continued snow womps, we knew that these conditions wouldn’t last forever. A park ranger mentioned that the snow softens up by about 10:30AM and we didn’t want to be caught out here much past pumpkin hour.
Satisfied with the day’s ski we ventured back to the car, again finding the most difficult part of this journey to be the few yards between the tree-line and the highway. I fell a few times here and really began to notice how soft the snow had become. One time my ski sunk all the way down and my knee was in the snow! I toppled backward laughing at the absurdity of my other ski flailing in the air as I became a ‘snow scorpion.’
Crust skiing in Broad Pass will forever be one of my favorite Alaskan adventures. We loved this excursion so much that there’s a good chance it will become a new tradition for Elizabeth and me every spring!
Recommended Reading for more Alaskan Adventures
- Hiking Pepper Peak – Summers at Eklutna Lake
- Amazing Denali Views while Hiking the Curry Ridge Trail
- Winning the Denali Park Road Lottery
- Backpack through Denali National Park
- Camp at Grewingk Glacier
- Cross a frozen lake to Portage Glacier
- Ski to Skookum Glacier
- All Season Adventures -Hike Rabbit Lake Trail
- All Season Adventures -Explore Eklutna Lake Trail
- Aurora Hunting in Fairbanks for New Years Eve
- Biking to Knik Glacier
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