Looking for your next big mountain adventure? Denali, AK, is now open for guided ski runs

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Denali June 2022. pc: FB Mountain Trail screenshot

In 2020, Bill Allen’s grand prize had finally come true. After 25 years of mountain guiding in Alaska and a lifelong dream of skiing Denali, he was finally getting his chance. Standing 20,310 feet above sea level and claiming the right to be the highest peak in North America, Denali is undeniably massive. Bill Allen, co-owner and guide of Telluride-based mountaineering company Mountain Trip, believes,It is the jewel in the North American crown not only for mountaineering, but also for ski mountaineering.

Bill Allen Mountain Trial
Bill Allen, co-owner and guide, Mountain Trail. pc:mountain trip

Ski mountaineering itself is a relatively new sport that is not explored by most skiers. Ski mountaineering shares the same methods of climbing in winter conditions as mountaineering, but differs from its sister sport by choosing to ski downhill rather than uphill.

Ski mountaineering is new to Denali as of 2020. Previously, professional guides worked under decades-old National Park Service restrictions, first established when ski mountaineering was not as popular. The antiquated rules were introduced as a safety measure and required all climbers to be roped in both ascent and descent. So, until 2020, any guide service that helped customers on the ascent was also required to keep them roped on the descent.

ski in denali
Potential in Denali. pc:FB Mountain Trail screenshot

Any experienced skier knows that rope skiing down a descent can lead to disaster, even death in certain conditions. Chris Davenport, extreme ski world champion and expert in ski mountaineering, also believes it and adds:It’s one thing to be on a rope when you’re naked, but on the way down it’s easy to knock someone off their feet.”

Denali Park Ranger Tucker Chenoweth played a small but vital role in lifting those old restrictions. Chenoweth, himself a skier, had long recognized from his own private travels the possibility of safe ski mountaineering on Denali, saying, “…that there was no real reason for the park service to prevent it.

Chenoweth, however, cautions anyone attempting to climb and ski Denali due to its incredible challenge. Speaking from his own experience Chenoweth preaches,

“I would say skiing Denali is about surviving. There are places and times where it lines up and you have downhill snow, but in general you’re really going to struggle with the conditions. You go from 7,000 feet to 20,310 feet and so you get all the conditions. It’s everything from brittle crust and wind slab to corn and powder, to super hard alpine ice. It sounds like fun, so I think there will be interest, but the reality of engaging in it and doing it will be different, because it’s not to be taken lightly.

Ascent in Denali Park
Ascent to Denali. pc:FB Mountain Trail screenshot
rock climbing in denali
Bootpacking in Denali, June 2022. pc: FB Mountain Trail screenshot

Denali is all of that and probably more. Ski mountaineering requires a number of specialist skills such as moving safely on glaciers, crevasse rescue, the ability to climb very steep couloirs with heavy packs, the use of ice axes and ski crampons , self-stopping techniques, etc. All of these skills are mandatory and required for these trips. Speaking about the skills needed, Allen believes:

“All of those things, in addition to dealing with the altitude and the Denali environment, you also have to be a very strong, competent skier who can handle skiing with a heavy pack in potentially not-perfect snow conditions. steep terrain… Lots of people with interest and less people with skills.

It’s there that mountain trip seeks to position itself for the future, not only as a guiding service that can expertly assist you in your search for Seven Summit, but also as a service that can educate, teach, and help you acquire the skills required. Mountain Trip began hosting week-long ski mountaineering camps in Denali in the spring of 2021 to do just that; teach the skills needed to climb and ski safely in Denali. In April 2022, Mountain Trip held its second annual training camp before following it up with a first-ever guided ski mountaineering trip on DenalI’m coming a month later in May 2022.

With all the knowledge, skills and experience required, it’s not often something that can be learned in a weekend. Explaining some of the learning processes, Allen says,

“It’s the kind of thing that I think it takes people years to acquire. We have people coming to ski with us in Colorado, training there, and then coming to Alaska for the week-long ski mountaineering camp next year. It’s going to take people a few years. I think, to develop skills and comfort level.

For readers looking to improve their skills and/or take a ski mountaineering trip to Denali, Mountain Trip is currently one of only five licensed guide services available. Alaska School of Mountaineering is the only other company to date to offer guided outings with ski descents. It’s also likely that with the growing interest, we’ll see more companies come online and offer travel as well.

For now, and however you choose to ride Denali (climbing, skinning, bootpacking, maybe even crawling!!), I think it’s fair to say that you have legitimately and honestly…’ earned your tricks.’

Cut Denali Crossbeam
Management of the crossing in Denali. pc: FB Mountain Trail screenshot
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Climbing in the clouds, Denali. pc: FB Mountain Trail screenshot
skiing in denali
Fall in Denali. pc:FB Mountain Trail screenshot
ski in denali
Smiles everywhere in Denali. pc: FB Mountain Trail screenshot
Descent into Denali Park
Descent to Denali. pc: FB Mountain Trail screenshot
Dreams come true in Denali. pc: FB Mountain Trail screenshot

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