Skiing to Skookum Glacier – Social Distancing like an Alaskan

by Mike Still
Skiing to Skookum Glacier – Social Distancing like an Alaskan

It’s hard to believe how drastically life has changed with social distancing and mandatory closures as part of our pandemic response. I kept toying with the idea of writing a post about the Coronavirus but instead think that we all need a break from that nonstop newstream.  So, instead I’ll share about how drastically different a few weeks can make here in Alaska, not because of coronavirus but because of the changing seasons.  The photos and video in this post are just a few weeks old, taken in the middle of April, when I truly realized how grateful I was to be living in Alaska.  Social distancing has been much easier here, thanks to our wide open spaces, spaces which are now sprouting flowers and greenery!  Summer in Alaska is almost here with schools out this week even though a few weeks ago Elizabeth and I bundled up for an adventure and skied to Skookum glacier!

Skiing to Skookum Glacier – Chugach National Forest, Alaska

Beautiful white clouds decorated a blue sky as we drove down the Seward Highway to the Placer River. You’ll find a few pullouts on the side of the road nestled in Chugach National Forest just a few miles past the turn for Portage Glacier. We pulled over, donned our skis, and couldn’t believe how quickly the sound of the road dissipated.

Chugach National Forest surrounds you with true Alaskan wilderness shortly after you enter the underbrush. I was glad that the bears were still hibernating when we skied to Skookum, my first true ski-trek and an adventure I dreamed about ever since my first winter in Alaska.

Elizabeth and I took our skis off to cross this frozen stream on the way to Skookum Glacier .

It was easy to find a few trails through the snow and we saw a half dozen other nature lovers heading into the wilderness. Alaska’s vast expanse makes it easy to enjoy a trek and socially distance at the same time. We quickly came across a river with frozen water guarded by muddy banks so we took our skis off to cross finding a snow-covered marsh on the other side.

Getting to Skookum Glacier

The snow was perfect and we fell into a rhythm quickly, picking up speed along this traverse. Elizabeth’s dog, Theo, bounded with glee through the deeper drifts; his goofy tongue lolling about.  He made it look so easy while I had to use all my energy just to stay upright for most of the journey. Snow machine tracks crisscrossed the snowy crust as we weaved between frozen streams and eventually crossed railroad tracks before we found the ‘proper trail.’

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Finding Skookum Glacier without an official trail seems like a daunting challenge at first but a quick peek at Google Maps shows the glacier sitting perfectly inside a valley. A valley that’s easy to pick out as you drive down the highway and even easier while trekking towards the glacier. Skookum valley is the first one on the eastern side of the Placer River after you leave the highway.
A snow-covered Skookum Glacier was visible for most of the day’s journey, only disappearing for a few moments while we skied through a leaf-less forest. Pine covered hills deeper in the valley hid our destination once we crossed the railroad tracks but a clear path packed into the snow led us onward. Veering through the leaf-less trees and following a lazy stream created a perfect afternoon. The landscapes around us were dreamy even before we got to the glacier with small pools reflecting everything and filling our eyes with Alaskan wonder.

A few bikers paused to take in the scenery while we opted to go off-trail a bit. Our classic cross country skis were ideal for the day’s snow conditions and we quickly found ourselves speeding up.  That speed helped me add a few more falls to my tally as my skiing confidence continued to grow.

“I love Alaska” I spontaneously hollered while we veered over another hill and Skookum Glacier came back into view! I was doubly rewarded as Theo bounded up to me offering his head for some scratches. Sharp blues accentuated the glacial face on the left while gray and black streaks interspersed throughout the right flank. The sharp corner jutted towards us creating two massive walls, echoing a few other adventurer’s conversations back to us.

We heard them chat about how to “take a great boomerang” while someone else asked if anyone “was going to post this on TikTok.” Elizabeth and I laughed before dropping our packs for a picnic with the best view we could ask for.  We had this place practically to ourselves! Theo posed for a photo or two after I pulled out my Nikon but I was even more excited to put my drone into the air. This was the first flight since February, when I collided with a tree and sent it in for repairs. I was armed with a few batteries and my favorite cinematic polarizer before Elizabeth ventured down the next hill.

I followed her with the drone half wishing that I could ski it with her but doubly excited about capturing these videos.  When she returned we donned our packs again and ventured closer to the glacier, wary of a potential calve but understanding that the conditions here were more stable than other glaciers. We saw some other skiers go close enough to touch the massive ice wall while we tried to at least stay a few yards back just in case.

Theo loved the opportunity to roam freely through the snow. He’s an adventurous pup who enjoys wandering off to sniff trees and hunt for rabbits, but stayed close to us at the glacier. When we finally decided it was time to leave we donned our skis and followed the length of Skookum Glacier’s blue ice wall one last time. Theo took this as an indication that we were heading onward and quickly bounded up the edge of the cornice!

We shouted for him to come back, worried that his weight on top of the ice might trigger a calve. Our hearts pounded as he stopped in his tracks and gazed over the edge for a moment. He stood there frozen in a picturesque landscape before finally turning back to us. We’d had our fill of adrenaline for the day and quickly departed the glacier, skiing back along the same path we came in on.

The trail back to our car was easy to follow and ever so slightly downhill, but by the end my legs were starting to grow weak. The flat marshes were battered with violent winds that toppled me over and over. It made me realize that we were incredibly lucky with the weather all day and the extra layers in my pack were well worth the weight. With the road in sight I decided to deal with the wind and push onwards, happy to have another successful adventure in the books.

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Mike Still
Mike is a travel enthusiast, photographer and teacher. He loves adventure travel, meeting the locals and exploring new culture. As an outdoor enthusiast you can often find him hiking mountains or exploring forests trying to capture the beauty of mother nature. In 2013 he founded as he left his home in America and has been teaching or traveling around the world ever since!

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Peter Levy May 21, 2020 - 9:08 am

Great trek. Alaskan Social Distancing seems somewhat easier than in NYC!😃

Mike May 21, 2020 - 9:47 am

Thanks Peter, its definitely easier than in NYC! Hope you and Sandy are still doing well despite the lockdown.

Peter Levy May 21, 2020 - 9:51 am

We are fine. Since most people are following the rules, we walked to the river park yesterday. we need the exercise.

What I learned after teaching with Zoom and Canvas for almost a year - Live, Travel, Teach December 8, 2020 - 10:08 pm

[…] My SEL lessons often include sharing about my hobbies like skiing.  Don’t forget to build connections with your class and share some of your excursions. Read more about two teachers social distancing at Skookum Glacier. […]


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