Snowboarding Thompson Pass

By Mike Gray | Published Jan 22, 2018
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Life's to short to put off seeing the world. Year after year had gone by and the stories of all the snow and terrain Alaska had to offer only built up. It was time to check it out and experience it for myself. I'd booked my flight and I was on my way to one of the snowiest places in North American. We were Alaska bound departing from the Pacific Northwest.

Snowboarding the last 8 years all around Washington, Idaho, and Oregon I wanted to explore the backcountry scene more but wasn't sure what to expect from the Alaskan Mountains, but my hopes were high for a place that could see 10 inches of snowfall in the course of an hour. From the moment we touched down to the time we arrived in Valdez I saw nothing but a landscape blanketed in snow and peaks as far as the eye could see, just waiting to be explored.

There is something beautiful about the absolute silence you can experience. Its unlike any other place I have ever had the opportunity to snowboard, you are alone, you are out there experiencing what the land has to offer. The mountain gives you all the terrain and powder you could ask for, there are no limits to what you can find if you look. All the effort that goes into finding your own perfect line makes the experience all that more personal. You very well may be the first person to ever lay that particular line, you are an explorer in vast landscape that hides its best for those who venture to it. All that I have done in the days since being here with my cousin and friend I never would have guessed that every day it could be better... and different! The stories just did not match up to the experience it was more beautiful, more peaceful and more fun then I could have imagined. You just don't know till you go.

Standing atop Moonlight Basin looking down into Thompson Pass.
The possibilities are endless on Thompson Pass.

The first day up Thompson Pass we accessed the mountain by snowmachine. Simply took our pick of pull offs along the Richardson Highway, launched the snowmobile and made our way to the top of Moonlight Basin. Was a beautiful clear day and the three hundred and sixty degree view was breathtaking. If the views weren't enough the runs down made it all worthwhile. Turn after turn carving first lines through untouched powder. The backcountry runs were longer and allowed more freedom then anything I was use to in the Pacific Northwest. There were no worries about going out of bounds or having trouble accessing any of the terrain, it was all within reach. If you could see it and thought your skills could do it there was no stopping you.

  • Cutting through the trees to head up Stairway.

    Cutting through the trees to head up Stairway.

  • Just over half up Stairway.

    Just over half up Stairway.

  • Catching some air in the last remaining light of the day. Racing down so we don't have to skin out in the dark.

    Catching some air in the last remaining light of the day. Racing down so we don't have to skin out in the dark.

The next day we set out to tackle Stairway, a different mountain by split board. Different location but same story, tons and tons of terrain covered in pow. Starting from the base we traversed making our own route one switchback at a time ascending the mountain. The two mile skin up gave good perspective on the fields of white fluff we would soon be carving through. It was a run filled with variety even the steepest of the steep was effortless to float through with the depth of the powder. The turns were effortless leaning back as far as the board would flex spraying snow as if I was surfing cutting through the pipe of the perfect wave. The distance of the run gave way to an appreciation for the massive size of the mountain realizing this peak was just one of thousands in an expansive range.

The third day the powder situation was just too deep to get to Mount Diamond, where we had planned so we hit some drops and played on the pillows! You could do no wrong in a playground like this any drop was worth considering, the only thing standing in your way was yourself! The forth day we couldn't even set out for where we had planned due to snow drifts, blizzard conditions and white out visibility on the roads of the pass. Had I more time in Alaska the upwards of two feet of new powder would have made for another stunning day in a place that exceeds all expectations. The mountains surrounding Valdez Alaska are breathtaking and worth every bit to make the trip. I know I will never forget my short time here and will be eager for a chance to return.

View this other article for Thompson Pass ski maps.