Book Review – The Alaska Factor 2
Alaskan Joe Stock obviously has a love affair with Thompson Pass where he spends a few months of the year being a backcountry ski guide. With his updated The Alaska Factor 2, a car full of skiers with skins will have no excuses if Valdez weather sucks. Backcountry skiing is the fastest growing segment of the world-wide ski industry and this book will serve those masses well in Alaska.
On a personal note, ten years after I traversed the Chugach, Joe Stock and Andy Wexler bisected the Chugach skiing from Glen Alps in Anchorage to the Valdez rifle range. That remains one of the greatest 18-day ski excursions in Alaska history in my opinion. Joe spent years skiing Alaska before his first guide book and that is notable and important in identifying the nuances of particular routes and Alaska in general.
The advantage of this book is timing. Coupled with a National Weather Service forecast, an advisory from a local avalanche center and your cell phone, you can move to any goods in a day’s drive or less from any of the trailheads. That’s great beta for visiting skiers with Wifi at their finger tips.
He has an excellent panorama of Odessey to Mt. Dimond in the Thompson Pass chapter. All the panoramas he uses throughout the book are excellent and well notated for trip planning purposes.
While some may not like the lack of GPS coordinates, my experience is that works fine for hiking guide books, but not so much for Alaska’s snowy mountains. A TH waypoint works well for any guide book. In winter though, routes are determined by many factors including avalanche safety, powder preferences, elevation and aspect. Our terrain is complex and complicated thus routes are hard to define …exactly. Much of the time you are going straight up or straight down covering more vertical distance than horizontal. Multiple GPS waypoints are useless while looking up the gut of a 2000′ couloir. Stock left those busy numbers out of his book, but has them available on his web site.
He gives a full page of exposure for heli-skiing in Thompson Pass which seems out of place in a backcountry ski guide book. He expands on the Valdez routes with dining and lodging recommendations. Cracked Ice is a favorite of locals and if you skin the route, you will see why I did not include that route (and others!) in my guide book. Most of those stashes have been discovered anyway.
Skiers increasingly arrive in Alaska and Valdez prepared for ski-mountaineering. Many outstanding technical ascents/descents are free from heliskiers due to lack of a safe LZ near the col. Stock offers two technical routes; one through the depths of the crevassed-riddled Worthington Glacier and of course, Mt. Dimond’s couloirs via Small Creek.
This book has many color photos and that’s obvious when you feel the weight in your hand. Fortunately, Stock has all his guide certifications, experience, wisdom, and knowledge wrapped around a variety of safety topics and helpful hints. I have used the “casting” technique (versus face plants!)and its good to see that in the book. Flat light in Alaska’s alpine region means hazardous skiing even if it’s powder. Visiting skier can be surprised by these conditions and it is good to have some tricks to deal with it.
Being a Valdez powder snob, I could not help but notice the lack of Thompson Pass pictures in the rest of the book. Valdez is spectacular and a touring picture or two would have been nice in other chapters. While Kodiak is highlighted, Cordova is left out. But I’m sure Stock will make it there eventually.
It’s easy to chuckle at the picture of Eric the Viking in the introductory material. Eric and Kathy spent a bunch of days at the Chalet and explored Valdez in a big way a couple times. They raised the bar in Valdez as did others elsewhere in Alaska in the 80’s and 90’s. Alaska has some amazing old-school skiers and they are two of best. I wish I had a record of the routes they did in the Pass because it would amaze many, including the first descent of the north face of Sapphire. History is always a good thing in a guide book and Stock missed the chance to document first descents, traverses, and other notables by Alaskans of the past especially around Anchorage.
I’ve skied a few of the areas Stock highlights in over 35 routes. I like Arctic Valley for touring and Hatchers Pass is full of deformed couloirs. The North Bowl above Eagle River is one of my favorites having skied either side of the valley a number of times.
So much of Alaska remains untapped for backcountry skiers. We all dream of how much powder is out there laying unknown, untracked, and sleeping in Alaska’s diverse topography. While my book pealed away a small part of Alaska, Stock’s pulls the cover back further. It allows visiting and local skiers more options on their dashboard as they cruise around Alaska chasing dream lines.
To order the book for $30, which includes shipping in the US and to Canada, see:
By Matt Kinney(Dec 2016)