Ski Rigs Will Roll
It’s been a complicated progression of vehicles to get to trailheads in search of powder. I arrived in Valdez cruising over Thompson Pass in a 1975 Ford Galaxy 500 sedan. And, as I write this story, I can’t help but chuckle at the fact that it was white! Since that time, I have been through a Ford Bronco, Mazda, Ford Explo-D-er, and an F-250 with plow. My all-time favorite snowmobile was a green 42mpg GEO Metro that more than paid its way to 150,000 miles while based at Thompson Pass Mountain Chalet.
I was desperate for a real rig after seeing it seriously dump snow for the first time in 1979. The shoulder-less dirt road over Thompson Pass was in poor condition and it took 6-8 hours to drive to Anchorage. If you traveled at night you could only get gas at Eureka Lodge. There was no HUB in Glennallen. It was an adventure in winter compared to today as you can do the trip in five hours on less than a tank of gas.
Jeff Baily, a National Weather Service meteorologist, drove a blue Toyota Landcruiser to work at his post in the USCG Marine Safety Office where I was stationed. I was fascinated at the potential of such a rig to explore Alaska listening to Jeff’s stories of wild places like the Denali Highway, Nabesna and McCarthy. I got lucky. Early in the summer of 1980 I bought a Landcruiser with 7000 miles on the engine from a Valdezean who was quick to leave town. It was exactly like Jeff’s and in mint condition. I could not have been more lucky and quickly paid out $7000 and drove to McCarthy the following weekend. I had begun the process of separating myself from life at sea to a life in the mountains.
It came with a bomb-proof luggage rack on top along with a hardy WARN winch on the front and an extra set of studded tires. On the back was a rack to hold a Jerry can of gas. I now had the primary component for learning how to backcountry ski as many face shots I could muster with my posse of pals on the Road Road.
It was a beast. I bought a trailer and every fall drove to the Billy Mitchell Campground area for firewood. With a partner and his truck, we would go “up country” for the day with saws and such. We would do this routine as often as we could so as not to hassle with firewood gathering during ski season. After knocking down and cleaning the trees, a long rope was run up the highway and hooked to the Landcruiser and then yanked up on to the highway. I would stack 8-footers on the luggage rack till it bent, then pack the back with small rounds and then fill the trailer with 8-footers. It seemed like I could carry about a chord per load back to town. Typical pre-season wood pile needed 6-8 chords. At dusk in September, we would drive back through the Pass as slow as we wanted loaded to the ground and gazing at peaks.
All the logs used to build Thompson Pass Mountain Chalet were hauled to the site with the Landcruiser and the fat wall logs were winched to the site from the road. The 20 or so 18ft/10″ cottonwood rafters were hauled on the roof and trailer from Valdez Glacier Stream.
From Weiland’s Subaru to Teal’s Green Machine, the ski and ice pioneers of the Valdez Chugach had a variety of contraptions to get up to the Pass and beyond. I recall the Landcruiser hauling expedition gear to Chistochina for the Weiland Expedition to Mount Sanford. To make it more difficult it was early February and -20F! Unfortunately or not, I had to return to work in Valdez. After skiing with the party across the Copper River, Pat Levy and I returned to the highway. The main thing I recall about the trip was how scary it was crossing the Copper River in winter. The party was unsuccessful after being brutalized by high wind for days near the summit. But others should tell that tale.
As most Alaska skiers know, a Subaru is the way to go. I finally caved in for a CrossTrek a few years ago. Seems like a good ski rig and I’m hoping to get another 150,000 miles of reliable and dependable access to thousands of feet of vertical powder. But none of the my rigs were as tough as the Landcruiser.
I drove the Landcruiser for about 13 years. By the time I replaced it, my kids were riding bench seats in back and could see through the rusting metal to the road. I eventually sold it and got a Ford Bronco. Last I heard about the Landcruiser is that it was ferried to Cordova and driven up the Copper River Highway as far as it would go and abandoned. I could not think of a better resting place.
By Matt Kinney 11-19-16