Feather adventures

It was 7 a.m. on a Sunday in late January. We put all the ski touring equipment in the car while trying to simultaneously keep the three dogs from escaping the vehicle. I introduced myself to Bryan, who I had just met in person for the first time after connecting on Facebook, and off we went for a ski adventure in the White Pass range near Skagway. As we drove off in the early morning darkness, he asked me a question.

“Um, do you have your passport?” Neither of us had remembered ours. Back we went and picked up our passports and tried again. As we approached Carcross, the sun started to glow behind the mountains. We watched as fog lurked around and we continued toward the White Pass summit. We talked about where we wanted to ski. My hope was to get to the Feather Peak area. I had not been there before, so it was on my bucket list. 

As we approached Log Cabin, the clear skies turned pink with orange hues. The moon still in the middle of the sky was battling the sun. The blue darkness contrasted intensely until the moon drifted off over the mountains. The sun still laid behind. We arrived at the Feather Peak pullout, only metres from the White Pass summit. It was chilly, but no wind. It was strange. 

When ski touring near the Yukon, there’s usually at least one factor working against you. It’s sunny, but freezing cold, or it’s sunny but gusting winds, or it’s warm but foggy. It’s never just perfect. But that day was sunny and warm (-5C) with no winds and perfect snow conditions. I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming.

As Bryan prepped the dogs with their booties, I prepped my skis. More vehicles pulled up for other ski touring groups. We went over the route we were planning to take, looking at the mountain, identifying different features that would help us stay on track. The snow conditions would determine where we went. We didn’t have huge plans, just to enjoy the beautiful day and hopefully get some good skiing in. Once our ski skins were on and our transceivers were on and checked, we were ready to go. 

Bryan pointing to a route up the mountains, the sun not yet above the mountain tops

The first part of the day was immediately down from the road about 30 metres. This was tricky to navigate. Ski touring skis mean you’re not clipped in to go down, but rather clipped to go up. So our boots were only clipped in at the toes. This made for some interesting maneuvering down. I only fell once, which I consider a success. As the group ahead of us started putting on their skins, we realized a little trick for next time would be to transition our skis at that point instead of in the parking lot.

From there, we started on the east side of Feather Mountain. We climbed up, still in the shade, trying to maneuver with the dogs. As there was at least seven inches of fresh snow, they often struggled and decided to use our skin tracks to keep up. Often they would take off our skins by walking on our skis behind us. We continued up the mountain, continually checking the route. The surrounding mountain landscape was stunning. The sun burst over the jagged mountain tops and the instant warmth and beauty lit us up.

Manoeuvring through one of the gullies

Eventually, we became curious that we had not seen the other group. The terrain was convoluted as we came to a little gully area and had to maneuver over a small cliff. When we came to another gully, we finally saw the other group and their tracks. Bryan noted that there’s a million ways to skin a cat. There’s a million ways to go up a mountain. We continued on and the snow had changed slightly. It was more windblown and loaded. A small natural avalanche was nearby a small steep section we went up.

The Feather Peak summit within view

We kept going and eventually we were only a couple hundred metres from the summit. We were surprised how quickly and far we went and how good the conditions were. We peered at the summit and debated if we wanted to go to the top. It looked wind-scoured and would require boot packing. As we contemplated the summit, we went a bit further and noticed that the new snow was on sheet ice. We opted to ski from where we were back down to the parking lot.

The snow conditions change as we get closer to the summit

The snow was fantastic and the views were some of the most spectacular you could ever hope to see skiing. As we whooped and yelled for how good the snow conditions were, the dogs enjoyed it even more. The dusk started to settle on the mountains, with orange and pink appearing as the sun crept west. All of the conditions were like the perfect day skiing and so far my best skiing day near the Yukon to date.

You can get more information from Yukon Backcountry Skiing’s book White Pass (https://yukonbackcountryskiing.com/) and backcountry information at YukonAvalanche.ca.

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