The Chugach front range contains many tantalizing looking ski lines. However, many of them are rarely in skiable condition. During some years, snowfall is light. Other years, howling winds or rain clean the snow away as soon as it falls. When everything does come together in the front range, there are endless exciting lines to be had. I feel extremely fortunate to have skied off the summit of The Ramp, Harp Mountain, and several other front range peaks.
The main gully on Peak III provides the most reliable front range skiing, even during marginal years. This gully receives blown in snow, and tends to retain it even when the winds are fierce. Peak III got its name from being the â€œthird peakâ€ over from Flat Top. Skiers typically access the â€œbackâ€ side, the opposite side of the range from the major parking lot and trail up Flat Top Mountain.
Access is easy from the end of Canyon Road. As the days lengthen in March, many Anchorage area skiers with day jobs head up for quick laps after work.
This is the kind of ski trip where I do not have an expectation of a â€œwildernessâ€ experience. Rather, I enjoy the festive atmosphere of watching a spring sunset from the top with a group of friends and strangers. The Anchorage buildings glint in the red and yellow light along with the waters of Turnagain Arm. On the luckiest days, there are great views of Denali to be had as well.
On a recent morning while visiting Anchorage, I woke up to thick fog and a light blanket of snow. I decided to head up Peak III. I knew that it was in from top to bottom, so even this dusting would make for a pretty fun ski. I was hoping that the fog would have a low ceiling, and that I would pop out on top of it while climbing the mountain.
I got to the end of Upper Canyon Road, marveling as always at how easy the road is to drive these days. When I first skied Peak III in 2005, there were sections where it was necessary to strategically place tires on specific rocks to avoid high-centering. Water usually ran down the middle of the road, and there were deep runnels in many sections. These days, it is typically very smooth sailing up from Upper DeArmoun Road. The road is steep and it can be icy, so 4 wheel drive and good tires are recommended.
The route involves a couple of short switchbacks in the bushes, and then a straightforward approach. Hikers can proceed up the main gully if they are very confident in the snowpack, or up one of the flanking ridges. It is usually necessary to boot the last little bit of the climb- less than 100 feet or so. There is a large flat area on the summit that is a great place to transition equipment and savor the view.
Most of the ride down is a consistent intermediate level run. However, the very top offers a few technical turns among rocky pillars. These can be avoided by descending via the ridge and entering the main gully from there.
The very top was still soft, and the main gully was filled with fluffy snow. I was able to make consistent turns all the way to the brush. On my second lap, I yielded to the temptation to venture into untracked terrain outside of the main gully. I promptly put a nice gouge on one of my skis with a rock. Oh, well.
Although the proximity to town and the relative ease of the route may lull users into a sense of security, skiers must treat this route as complex terrain. As I mentioned above, the main route up and down Peak III is a large gully that receives windblown snow. These two features should set off a skierâ€™s avalanche radar. A mountain area that becomes wind loaded is at an elevated risk of avalanche, and a large gully is an area where there are greater potential consequences of an avalanche. In 1992, a party of three was buried as they approached the route. Two were killed. Skiers must evaluate the weather and snowpack when deciding whether to pursue this route.