Haines: in many ways the skier’s promised land. After years of hearing about Haines from friends and seeing it in ski movies, I’m finally here. I still can’t believe it. We are sitting in town, waiting out bad weather, with no end in sight (yes, tradition). Yet whatever the weather this trip has been incredible — already mind blowing.
The day after wrapping up college finals I woke early and met Coop at the Seattle airport. We boarded the plane to Juneau. The sky was clear as we flew over the mountains of southeast Alaska, and the views provided a fitting start to the trip. Tyler picked us up at the airport and as we stepped outside, the entire Juneau sky was blue, showing off the glaciers and mountains ringing town. From what I hear, clear skies are a rare sight in the capitol of the last frontier.
We knew the weather window was closing so we scrambled to catch the early morning ferry to Haines. Our capstone errand was a big run to the Juneau Costco. We stocked up on pre-cooked meals, including pulled pork, General Tso chicken, and all sorts of other goodies — not your average camping food. I’m looking forward to the luxuries of fly-in ski touring.
We stayed up late packing gear and made it to the ferry terminal at 5 in the morning. The ferry was completely booked so we needed to arrive a few hours early to get in the standby line. After waiting with fingers crossed, we got waved onto the ferry. The skies were still mostly clear although clouds were slowly moving in. The ferry ride was beautiful with mountains rising up from either side of the inlet we traveled.
We arrived in Haines around 11 and went straight to see Drake Olsen, the owner and sole pilot of Fly Drake. Drake is nothing short of legendary, having flown and skied in the mountains around Haines for years. It was very special to meet him. You immediately could tell he has a lot of knowledge about this area and flying. With the weather still looking pretty good, we were eager to fly out. Drake, however, said he was feeling like it wasn’t quite the right time. Accommodating our enthusiasm, he told us to pack our stuff up while he did another flight, and when he got back we would see. We packed while the clouds thickened, although I was still hopeful. Our excitement was tangible. Hours ago I had arrived in Haines, and now I’m getting ready to fly into the Fairweather range? Unreal.
Alas when Drake returned, the weather was undoubtedly worsening. We decided to go on a reconnaissance flight anyways to view possible basecamps. We took off and immediately entered another world, a world of spines, couloirs and peaks that up until now had only existed for me in ski movies and magazines. As we approached the border of Glacier Bay National Park, it was obvious the weather had moved in and we had to turn around. Even that short 15 minute flight was incredible; I’m thrilled for the trip to come.
So for a few days we’ve been hanging out in Haines waiting for the weather to clear. Although I’m excited to get out on the glacier, I’ve immensely enjoyed the town. Alaskans are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Haines seems to attract a lot of interesting people and it’s been wonderful meeting other skiers and bumping into old friends.
Yesterday we even did some backcountry skiing. We drove just over the Canadian border outside of town to one of the only places in the area you can ski from your car. The snow was a little crusty but we had fun, and found some seductive tree skiing and pillow lines. It’s looking like the cloudy weather will stick around for at least a few more days, so we will have time to get more acquainted with Haines.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.