Back In The Day – Opening The Books 1983
Before it became known as The Books, it was called Mind —k Basin. That name was attached to the entire mountainous cirque of the Heiden Glacier by an intrepid pair of local mountaineers in 1982. During that first ski trip to the basin, a clear sky at night greeted the pioneering pair outside their tents. Enhanced by their drug of choice at the time along with mystical waves of the aurora overhead, the name stuck for many years. WESC and all that followed thought they had discovered some untainted nirvana and renamed the zone. Perhaps it’s just as well that the current name rules, but the slang name is just as appropriate wether on drugs or not!
In 1983 I was skiing well enough and it was my turn to make the long day trip to the Basin. Gathering a group of locals who were into backcountry telemarking, we staged at 19-Mile, skied across the Lowe River and entered the trees. We exited from the northern edge of our coastal rain forest and pleasantly sank our soft ski tips into endless, sparkly snow.
Theresa Svancara, Bob Peca, Brian Teale and Joe Loffredo made up the team. Loffredo was a local HS XC ski star and was training for a spot on the US Olympic Biathalon “B” team and used skate skis. The rest of us were in leather boots with Chouniard 3-pin bindings, skinny, metaled-edges skis and Coltex skins. A few wore knickers! Poles were a mix of bamboo and plastic.
We cruised up and around The Great Chasm and slowly made our way over the rollers to the Basin. Of course, there was no one else to be seen. We pointed out the Road Run, wondering if anyone could see our tracks. We soon settled down for a sunny snack with a chaotic view of a serrated scene of uplifted earth. It was created long ago, finished with a rinse of a receding glacier.
Conditions were good as we carved tele’s back to the river day. I’m even wearing a short sleeve shirt, so it must have been an epic day in the Valdez Chugach. It was pretty cool back then when folks around town found out we had skied to the Heiden Glacier. “Why? How? Skins?”
A few months ago I was able to scan my Kodachrome slides from that epic tour and am able to present them here as a part of Valdez’s ski history. Though grainy and spotted, they represent a time of ski exploration that is a significant part of the thread that connects the past with today.
A decade later the area was one my popular guided ski tours from the Chalet at Mile 19. Soon the crush and roar of heli’s and sleds made the area unattractive for ski touring and quiet. In March of 2007, someone ribbed me about skinning so far by stating they had sledded to The Books in a matter of 20 minutes and “bagged some ramps”. Taking that as a challenge in my typical fashion, I took off the following week solo and skinned from my doorstep to the yawning basin. Not satisfied at just getting to the glacier and having consciously avoided poaching on sled tracks to break the trail, I set a high traverse under Halibut Head and went deep beyond the cluster of snow smothered ramps. Soon the sled tracks were behind me. After some wonderful skiing uphill, I, reached an un-named pass at the end of the cirque near the singular 7000′ peak in that zone. After some lunch of nuts and a waning water supply, I cruised a nice steep pitch off the pass and hustled back to the Chalet, completing the round trip in 7 hours. I have not been back since.
Matt Kinney (March 29, 2016)