THE TRAVELS OF A WOMAN’S G3 ALPINE TOURING SET-UP IN ALASKA
Backcountry Babes (formerly Babes in the Backcountry) was sold by Leslie Ross and bought by a gal in Alaska this past fall. The new Head Babe is a telemark skier too. As always, Babes has G3 skis available for their women’s ski clinics. Most of the skis stayed in Colorado this winter for the many telemark and steeps clinics going on all winter. But one pair of G3 Zests mounted with an AT Ruby binding and some Alpinist Elle skins managed to make their way to Alaska with the new Head Babe. They hung in the Head Babe’s garage for a while but then the new NTN boots with AT capability showed up. The Zests sat in the garage a little longer (telemark skier, remember?), but the Head Babe couldn’t stand it, she needed to see what those pretty Zest skis and an AT bindings could do!
The backcountry Zests & Ruby bindings made their maiden voyage on Alaska’s famed “Ski Train”. This is an annual event for the Anchorage locals. Sponsored by the National Ski Patrol, the Alaska Railroad designates a day in March that a whole train is dedicated to taking skiers to Curry in the southern foothills of the Alaska Range, just for FUN! Anybody and everybody that wants to buy a ticket, rides from Anchorage to an old rail stop where they get to enjoy 4 hours of playing in the virgin snow, and then they ride the train back home again. This isn’t steep Alaskan backcountry by any means, but it is for everyone. For the snowshoer, XC skier, backcountry skier, sledder, shredder, family, friends, costume-wearers, and all around local Alaskans who just want to socialize, party, and get out in some untouched snow and PLAY! The train fills with 700+ people and their outdoor snow gear, alcohol coolers, games, costumes, food, friends, and Oh, I forgot the Polka Band!
Come prepared if you end up in the Boombox Car like I did. The responsible drinking starts at 7 am as the wheels on the train begin to turn. It stops for 4 hours midday while everyone gets out and plays in the snow at Curry, and then it starts up again for 4 more hours of celebration of the Chilkoot Trail-style ski event that just occurred in the remote wilds of AK! The Boombox Car is where the party happens! The only thing that can quiet the crowd is when the Mountain comes into view. By the Mountain, I mean the High One—Denali. Abruptly the roar of the party stops and everyone starts applauding! What is going on, I wonder? And then I see it too. The Mountain! You have to love a place that no matter how many times we have seen Denali, it still causes standing ovations! The Zests loved it too! They enjoyed the train ride & loved the sweet fresh untouched powder they found in the open Curry trees.
Next stop was Snowcat Ski Day with the Backcountry Babes Alaska Steeps Ski Clinic and Chugach Powder Guides! The Zests, Head Babe, and 11 other women, including 2 female guides loaded up in the Snowcat and headed into the Chugach Mountains. Bluebird skies and fresh powder 2 days ealier, it was a sought-after AK spring ski day…and it was looking GOOD! The Babes arrived on a spectacular ridge full of views of snow, mountains, snow, blue skies, ocean, mountains, snow, and luscious skiing galore!
They took their first run. It was a bit crusty on the south-facing slope from the freeze overnight, but the Zests managed it with some grace keeping Zest faces down and Head Babe’s face up! Change of plans, let’s try the other ridge with more northern aspect and see if we can find some of the residual powder. We did indeed! Unloading the skis from the back of the Cat, we were all chomping at the bit to let ‘em rip in the powder this time. Uh, but wait…seems there is a slight problem to the Head Babe’s powder plan. One of the Zests has independently decided that it could not wait for the top of the ridge, and has jumped ship…or is that Cat…and gone for a premature ski on its own! NO! Head Babe and the other Zest stand there at the top of the ridge contemplating the sorrow about only getting a single run into our 8-run minimum day on a glorious AK spring ski day, and we are now sans a ski! So, Head Babe loads backup in the Snowcat and takes a drive back down the hill with Ray, the 15-year-veteran Cat driver for CPG. The others take run 2…in the powder. Ray is bewildered, seems this hasn’t happened before. Really? I know I left the Zests a bit cooped up in the garage for most of the winter, but apparently one of them was a bit antsy for some more runs! Ray and I are hopeful that the willy Zest just bounced out at the hairpin turn just down the road and is peacefully waiting for us to retrieve it. In positive light of the situation, we are a bit in denial of our realistic chances of finding the missing Zest. Better to stay positive! All the way down to the bottom and no sign of the Zest. My optimistic air of ever seeing the other ski again dwindles as I look at the enormous terrain out there, think about the early morning icy conditions that a lone ski can rocket down, and hear the other Cat driver laugh as Ray tells him to keep a look out for a missing “white” ski with no brakes! Oh God!
So CPG sets me up on a demo pair of skis. I miss the Zests! But the day goes on and I get in on Run 3…a powder run in the trees! Smiles galore at the bottom. Eventually, Ray shows up with our Cat…and what is that in the back ski rack? No!? The lone willy Zest! And she is tied in tight this time. Yes, Ray!! You found the ski!!! Now I know why CPG keeps him around. He is a dang good Snowcat driver & he knows how to find runaway white skis without brakes in the immense mountains of AK. All that adds up to keeping a ski babe happy!! Can’t go wrong with that, Ray!
Final stop for the Zests this spring is the backcountry spring ski biathlon. This location is secret, but it is somewhere in southcentral AK, involves skate-skiing to backcountry ski terrain with a killer view, and usually has powder skiing mixed with spring corn! The Zests go for an early morning ride in the car, get loaded into the sled, hauled across the flats by way of skate-ski power and a ski-jor dog. The skate skis get left behind and the Zests, Rubies, & Alpinist skins take over. For 2 more hours we climb in the warming AK sun under blue skies. Surrounded by snow and classic Alaska mountains and glaciers, it is awe-inspiring. In Alaska, we live all winter in the dark and cold for a day like this! We reach the saddle and overlook more mountains, glaciers, and the ocean. We stay as long as we can to enjoy the view, and then rip the skins. The Zests go back to work. This time sailing through the remnant powder up high. Then aiming for the corn down below. OK, so there is the breakable crust transition in between that we always try to deny is there. I mean, why can’t sweet cold powder just instantly turn to perfect spring corn? What is wrong with that idea? But it doesn’t, so we throttle back in that section, and the Zests take it in stride. Again keeping their faces down and the Head Babes’s up! Back at the bottom, the Zests are reluctant to call it a day, but it is time and we skate back to the car where the cold beer and lawn chairs are waiting!
Overall, these Zesty gals ride it all. They sail through the powder, they carve the corn, and they hold it together in the crappy stuff. The Ruby bindings are a sweet topper. They are lighter than the telemark bindings I usually have to haul around. They are easy to use with a quick in and out, and have lots of heel climber height options for all the terrain I travel. I was most impressed that all the binding transitions were quickly accessible by using my ski pole to click things up, down, in, and out. Fast transitions with little effort. This Babe is all about it! And the G3 skins rock! I used them in -10+ weather in the backcountry for much of the winter. They stayed on my skis in any weather, and I enjoyed some stress-free skins while others were fighting to make theirs go up the hill in the cold just one more time!
So, here it is…yep, this telemark skier had a dang good time skiing some G3 AT gear this winter!
Words by Jenna Boisvert