In the search for the ultimate ski mountaineering experience, the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve in southeast Alaska is the end of the line. It has the largest ski descent on earth (over 18,000′ from the summit of St. Elias to the ocean), the most terrain (13,200,000 acres) and some of the burliest and most skiable peaks on earth. Just for rough reference, that is 103 times larger than the central Wasatch Mountains, which would be lost in the lower intestine of the Wrangell’s.
With this much terrain, space, vertical relief and remoteness, the main challenge of skiing in the WSENPP is just getting into it. Planes are allowed, but heliskiing is not. You have to earn you turns, which in most cases means a glacier landing and winter camping expedition.
In 2012, Wild Alpine in conjunction with the Ultima Thule Lodge, introduced the Wilderness Ski Week, which is the best of all possible options for skiing in the Wrangell-St. Elias area. Starting with a six-hour shuttle from Anchorage, you then get flown into a deluxe lodge deep within the park which serves as a basecamp. Once there, the daily schedule involves flying to new areas, getting dropped off, skiing all day and then getting a ride back to the lodge for an excellent meal and warm, dry bed. Repeat until exhausted, which last year meant 5,000 to 7,000′ of climbing and roughly 7,000′ of descent per day.
Part of the beauty of the Wilderness Ski Week is that with so much terrain and elevation to choose from, there are almost always good options for skiing. The pilots at the lodge, including Paul Claus, are intimately familiar with the terrain and where would be best on any given day. With so much terrain to chose from, it is basically like skiing an entirely different mountain range every day.
The 2012 Ski Week was definitely the highlight of last year for me and had some of the best runs of my life. Part of the beauty of this area is that it doesn’t have to be ultra gnarly to be amazing and some of our runs took us from high alpine glaciers down through bowls, headwalls, couloirs and gullies before ending up 5,000+ feet later on a frozen river bed with hardly a bad turn to be had. It’s a fantastic trip and I can’t wait to get back there!