The Avalanche Review, VOL. 7, NO. 5, FEBRUARY 1989
Copyright © All Rights Reserved; AAA

Going to Extremes

by Reid Bahnson

Informally surveying a number of scientists, heli-ski guides, snow safety directors, patrollers, etc. at the ISSW this fall, I came up with the not too startling observation I'd like to share with you.

It seems that just about everyone who lives and works in the mountains considers their little comer of the world to be unique in its weather, its challenges, and its appeal. I support this premise and would like to offer a short case study of my introduction to Mt. Alyeska, Alaska's unique weather extremes as evidence.

I knew that the Chugach Mountains in Southcentral Alaska were in a maritime weather regime. I also understood that occasionally cold Arctic airmasses would intrude into the area, but having spent the previous decade in the Intermountain West must have dulled my concept of the meaning of "extreme." Follow along here through a few selected log entries of a "Cheechako"in Alaska.

Nov 27,1980-Leave Alta, fair, 50deg F. Load truck and head off for Alaska.

Nov 29 - Dawson Creek, heavy snow, minus 10 deg.

Dec. 1 -Watson Lake, ice fog, 56 below zero, ensolite pad shattered, go to motel, wine frozen, saw 5 cars on the highway today.

Dec. 4 - Alyeska! Clear, 10 deg., nice mountain, big slide paths.

Dec 25-BORING! Very cold, 5 hours of daylight.

Dec. 30 - storm coming in.

Dec 31 - 6 am, 70+ wind, HEAVY RAIN, 2-3 inches of clear ice with water flowing on top, "Frictionless World," ice skated 2 miles up the highway in chest waders and full rubber to do control work. All roads closed, power out, ice 4-6 inches thick by pm.

Jan 1 - HEAVY RAIN, "freight-train winds," snow above 2,000', BIG noisy slides all night.

Jan 13 - BIG climax to ground, naturals all day long, road closed.

Feb. 1 - Will it ever quit raining???

Feb. 9 - IT'SOVER!! 40 straight days of H20.

The rest of that season had its ups and downs, but nowhere near the extremes of December through February: Weeks of subzero temps abruptly followed by forty days of monsoons Alaska style.

In my first two months in Alaska, I had frozen my toes, numbed my nose, worn out a pair of crampons and two sets of rubber raingear, contracted trenchfoot, and forgotten what the sun looked like. I too consider my little comer of the world to be unique.

The Avalanche Review, VOL. 7, NO. 5, FEBRUARY 1989
Copyright © All Rights Reserved; AAA