The knife-edge ridge leading to the summit of Rainbow Peak arcs into the sky overlooking the brilliant blue ocean and the small town of Haines, Alaska. My ski partner, Sunny, pulls out his rope and feeds it through an anchor system called a ‘dead-man’ as I prepare to walk the fine line to the top.
On belay, I straddle the ridgeline and begin kicking steps into the side of the mountain. Instincts take over as I jam my ice axe above my head and balance for another incremental step. My focus is skyward as I try to ignore the loose snow pouring over the exposure below. The last thing I want to do is look down, but I can’t help but feel overwhelmed as Sunny and I reach the summit of Rainbow.
This is the mountain that we have been looking at for over a decade. Sunny smiles as he points out the flicker of the shiny metal roof of his house. It’s safe to assume that he will never look up at this mountain the same way again, but this is not a time for celebration. Our focus shifts to skiing as I rehearse the line in my mind. I can’t see beyond the third turn because the mountain falls away but I’ve convinced myself that I know exactly where I am going. I buckle my boots, take a few deep breaths, and roll forward.
Gravity takes control as I make an aggressive left turn, pushing all the moving snow over the cliffs to my right. Quickly, I wiggle back towards the other direction before making another deliberate left hand turn. At the end of this fluid motion, I gain a quick glimpse of my intended slot on a perfectly rounded spine leading to a mandatory air. Without hesitation, I dive in and commit to the fall line as I instantly become surrounded by moving snow. I have no choice but to point my skis directly down the fall line and accept the acceleration and the air time. When my skis touch back down, I realize the only way to regain control is to schmere a series of high speed turns. My vision is blurred by the high rate of speed but I can sense the right side of the mountain erupting into a massive cloud of slough. Fortunately, I control my speed in time to skip across the Bergschränd and avoid the crevasses on the run-out. I quickly relay pertinent information back to Sunny as he chooses an alternative slot and continues to rip tele turns to the bottom. Now it is time to celebrate…as we make our final turns to Base Camp where proper accoutrements await.
The next morning, we break down camp and begin our descent to the ocean. Avoiding the massive ice floe of the Rainbow glacier, we are forced to take a far-left line down the valley before traversing over the ridgeline, just below the Witches Tit. The snow quality is unexpectedly good as we make powder turns just above sea level. The final thousand vertical feet is problematic as we take our skis off and hike down a steep ravine overgrown with cat’s paw. It’s a less than glamorous ending to the coolest thing I have ever done on a pair of skis; however, there is an undeniable sense of satisfaction as we load our gear onto a 12-foot Zodiak. The ocean is a sheet of glass as we look back at the reflection of Rainbow. This is my last run in Alaska for the season and I couldn’t think of a better way to finish off the trip. That is until a pod of Orcas chased our boat back to the harbor. You never know what to expect in Alaska, aka the Land of Wow!
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