The Hyak of Anchorage
The centerpiece of the Anchorage Front Range is definitely Peak Three. This inconspicuous peak offers 2,000 feet of fall line skiing straight from the car, so it is a classic before-or-after-work lap. I had heard legends of 10 pm corn laps, parties, beer, and the social scene, so I wanted to see what it was all about.
Last year, on the sufferfest that was Little Tahoma and Big Tahoma, Anthony and I passed a skimo dude in pink tights linking perfect jump turns on the Emmons Glacier. This was Ben. He moved to Alaska over the summer but we kept in touch. He was eager to ski with me and show me Peak Three.
As the name might suggest, Peak Three is the third peak on a ridge line above Anchorage. The first one, Flattop, is rarely skied because it is just a flat pile of rocks up top. Ben suggested we ski Flattop, Peak Two, Peak Three, and just see how far we get before sunset.
I met Ben near the Peak Three trailhead and we started uphill towards Flattop. He rolled up with his helmet already on, donning 65 underfoot skimo skis and race boots. In the cold weather, he was “testing out some systems”: instead of bringing a midlayer, he only had a giant puffy which he would unzip to moderate heat. He had overboots to cover his light race boots. And if he got really cold, he would just take a sip of his only beverage, some form of alcohol. What a goof!
I do not typically use ski crampons much, but this Alaskan trip has made me regret not bringing them. Skinning up Flattop on icy slopes with wide 108mm skis was extremely challenging, but Ben floated up on his narrower skis (with probably superior skinning technique).
Flattop is aptly named so there was not much of a ski down, but I managed to not ding any rocks. The climb up Peak Two went quickly.
We dropped off the backside through a narrow, rocky chute. This was my first time really seeing Ben open up and I was blown away. He skied with remarkable power and control for such light gear. Usually people simply struggle to get down a slope on skimo gear, but Ben was absolutely ripping!
Now we just had a long climb up Peak Three. There were quite a few people out at this point. A dog nearly stole my bagel. The snow was still icy, so I was forced to skin straight up the 30 degree slope. I realized at that moment – the straight up skinners, the people, and the dogs – this had to be the “Hyak of Anchorage”!
We switched to booting up the final firm slope, our boots barely penetrating the bulletproof snow. We topped out right before sunset. The sunset glow on Cook Inlet at low tide was absolutely stunning, as were the endless peaks on the horizon. Okay, maybe the views were just a little better than Hyak.
The light was leaving us, so it was time to ski! Ben danced through the icy moguls on the headwall (yes, it was moguled, just like Hyak). He made it look easy.
Post work sessions like this can feel so casual, but I also realize how special they are. People may spend years dreaming of magical moments like this, but this year I have gotten so many wonderful sunsets skiing after work. In the moment, everything is moving so quickly, but taking photos and reflecting on them helps put them in perspective.
With the sun finally down, I put away the camera and zipped down behind Ben, flying through the banked turns of the lower slopes. In just a few minutes, we were back at the car.
Not all after-work adventures are created equal, and this one definitely ranks close to the top of the list. It was such a pleasure to meet Ben and experience the culture of the Front Range with a sunset ski of Peak Three. The views reminded me a lot of looking over Puget Sound at the Cascades from the Olympics. It felt familiar, and yet so unique. Anchorage, it turns out, is pretty special.
- Peak Three is in the guidebooks and a super simple tour from the trailhead. Parking is a bit limited here, so I hear sometimes you have to park pretty far back on a popular day!