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First Descent Junior Mint | UNITED STATES, ALASKA | 06/10/2008, by TeleMonster
To start off the First Semi-Annual Cooper Landing Backcountry Ski and Bushwhacking Festival, our first chosen line was the one most obvious from our campsite just outside of Cooper Landing. This line is the obvious snow path leading farthest down Junior. To the best of our knowledge, this line had never been skied before. First, a bit of background.
Cooper Landing is a small town located in the Chugach Mountains on Highway 1. For those who have been in the area, it is roughly half way from Anchorage to Homer. An acquaintance of mine, by the name of Chunk, lives there. He brushed fame about a year and a half ago when Powder Magazine did an article on which they featured him as one of the top 10 ski bums, or something to that affect. If you’re looking for this article, know that the editors incorrectly refer to him as “Crazy Craig”. So as not to mislead readers, Cooper Landing is not a ski town. In fact, Chunk may be the only one of the town’s 269 residents who skis.
Back to the story. With Chunk’s local expertise and the fact that he pretty much has all the first descents in the area, his assurance is all I needed to convince me the line we had selected had never been skied before. Despite Chunk’s best efforts, there are still thousands of unskied chutes in the area. Most of these chutes are Alaska sized, meaning that they involve a minimum of 2500-3000 vertical feet.
We drove around Kenai Lake and parked near the base of the ridge leading up Junior. Since the ridge and the end of the chute were some distance apart, we ran a shuttle to a point closer to the end of the chute. Note that roads and driving opportunities are minimal in these parts, so it helps to know a local. Also, hiking should be minimized due to the prevalence of Devil’s Club. If you are not familiar with the aptly named species, consider yourself lucky. Precautionary measures are taken against this mean bush such as wearing leather gloves and carrying your skis in a manner which helps part the spiny bastards like the red sea. The resulting system, much too complicated to go into here, is known as the Flux Capacitor. After a brisk hike up the ridge, we reached the top of the chute we had viewed from below. By mainland standards, it was moderately steep, but by Alaska standards, it classified as a green circle, which happens to be largely conditions dependent.
Perhaps now is a good time to introduce the Alaska rating system according to Chunk. He uses the same symbols: green circle, blue square, black diamond, and double black diamond. Their Alaskan definitions are as follows:
- Green Circle - if you fall, you will stop.
- Blue Square - if you fall, there is a good chance you will stop.
- Black Diamond - if you fall, there is a good chance you will not stop.
- Double Black Diamond - if you fall . . . well, don't fall.
The chute was a sustained 40 degrees for about 2500 vertical feet. As my first chute skiing experience in Cooper Landing, it was truly incredible. The snow had softened a bit beyond the corn phase, but not so far into the slush phase that things got dicey. The top was wide open and conducive to big mountain turns. As seen in the photos, a few sections got pretty narrow. The second video shows Chunk bombing down the ‘constriction’.
Backcountry Skiing Video Cooper Landing, AK
Once we reached the bottom of the snow, we had about 40 minutes of bushwhacking through the Devil’s Club to the car and the beer cooler. Since this was a first descent, we got to name the run. We unanimously decided on Junior Mint, since it was on Junior, it was rated a green circle, mint is green, and the word mint can also sympolize high quality. More posts to come on other chutes in the Cooper Landing area!