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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    Vanity Fair
    Posts
    2,687

    I'm an alien, a legal alien in AK - ongoing

    After receiving some quality life advice on this issue in the PR, I moved to Fairbanks in the last week of February, after having spent the last 10+ years of my life living a largely very pleasant existence in the Alps. I kind of-sort of needed a new job, there happened to be one on offer in Fairbanks, and who could resist promises of bird sized mosquitoes, eternal darkness, poisonous ice fog and a shithole city, "but the community is great" (= summary of PR life advice thread). Also, "you can do anything for a year" and this would count as having "an experience".

    Anyway, thought I'd share a little.

    There was some buildup to the move with waiting for the visa and all sorts of paperwork and I didn't have all that much to do workwise, so I took full advantage of the season till the end of feb, knowing a formative era of my life would be coming to an end in many ways (and also skiing options would not be as readily available). This was more or less my last day at home, they let me go first to honour the occasion.



    Inevitably, I was given John McPhee's Coming into the Country to prepare for Coming into the Country (that was also recommended in my PR life advice thread). Paragraph upon paragraph lauds the mystic qualities of snow and spruce trees, backdrop to tales of white men with guns, gold pans and bear traps, apex predators equaled in fierce independence only by the mighty Grizzly. Some succeed in finding a woman who serves them moose burgers with cranberry ketchup.

    Fairbanks is, of course, not the Country. It is where McPhee's heroes go when they fail to cure a tooth ache by repeatedly trying to pull the tooth with pliers and subsequently fainting.

    Due to the nature of my job, I have so far mainly met Fairbankians who are European academics. Many are Alaskatarians, meaning they are vegetarians but will eat Alaskan salmon and wild meat. Some keep hunting bows in their cars so they can shoot caribou should one appear by the side of the road. There seem to be a few silicon valley transplants who work their tech jobs remotely and otherwise pursue their true passion of dog mushing. I have been told that most people in Fairbanks are either from Europe or Wisconsin.

    During my first week I bought a car (again with excellent help from the PR) and XC skis, both of which made it easier to get places and shuttle around between the social security office, work, home, the supermarket, Skiland, home of the world's northernmost chairlift, and Ester Dome, home of a bunch of antennas and what some probably very over confident people call Alaska's best tree skiing.

    It took me a couple of weeks to get my bearings but sometime in March I managed to drive myself down the Richardson to the Deltas for a first little scouting walkabout and drive by sight seeing. Conclusion: the snow is fucked and this area looks like it is probably that way most of the time. Some really cool mountains, most of them best accessed with a plane.

    Near Isabel Pass:


    One of the big ones west of the river:


    Then an interesting bunch of older guys invited me on a sunday excursion to Jimbob's secret stash off the Denali Park road. Jimbob is the guy in the middle here. He likes wandering around in the woods on old ski gear, pancakes, and class V white water.


    Looking east


    Looking west (aka “the mountain is out”)


    This guy was unsure whether Jimbob really had a legitimate claim to the stash in question.


    Valdez is only seven hours, so most people I've asked seem to think you might as well go there instead of the Delta range, where everything is more difficult. Nobody except Jimbob seems to go skiing in Jimbob's secret stash.

    My “SO” visited and we went sight seeing "down south" in nice weather and, again, terrible snow.

    Roadside attraction


    Snow machine highway




    Moody harbour


    Moody Hatcher pass, better snow


    Turnagain, good snow


    On the way back up we enjoyed about two meters of depth hoar below 10 centimeters of not-yet depth hoar and some mystic spruce trees, because apparently that's what you get in the interior.



    Then it was back to work (office jobs suck and should be banned) and post-work visits to Ester Dome, taking advantage of the continuously increasing supply of daylight.





    Moose Mountain from Ester Dome, White Mountains in the bg.


    Looking in the other direction




    tbc
    Ich bitte dich nur, weck mich nicht.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    Vanity Fair
    Posts
    2,687
    To obtain an Alaska driver's license, I gave my phone to a DMV employee who has a US flag with an eagle and the words "US Army - Rats get fat while brave men die" tatooed on his arm in curly font. This ensured that I would not cheat on the written test.
    If a big game animal like a moose runs in front of your vehicle you should:
    a) Stop and take a picture.
    b) Brake firmly but do not swerve.
    c) Flash your headlights to warn approaching drivers.
    d) Contact your local police department or the Alaska State Troopers.

    The first part of my road test was a parallel parking exercise. You have to parallel park into a mock parking spot marked by traffic cones on the DMV parking lot. It is designed to accommodate very large cars. My examiner was a friendly, grey haired man who figured "you all probably don't do a lot of parallel parking in Europe" so we did a test run during which he told me exactly how to get my car between the traffic cones.

    I am sure he knew that I knew that he knew that we do, in fact, occasionally do parallel parking in Europe, but we both happily went along with this fiction, kindly offered.

    As they relate to traffic, moose seem a lot like cows. If they want to hang out in the middle of the road that is what they will do and you and your car can go fuck yourself. Caribou on the other hand seem both more nervous and somehow more stupid.

    Reindeer are the same thing as caribou, except reindeer are domesticated. When you put a fence around a caribou it turns into a reindeer. Scientists have explained this to me, it is a real fact.



    When people talk about all the great sking in the White Mountains, they mean cross country skiing. As some of my euro expat friends like to point out, the german word for cross coutry skiing does not contain any reference to skiing.

    More excellent snow, this time in the White Mountains off the Steese. Alaska skiing fully living up to the hype here.








    My car, a ford escape I got off craigslist (so far so good!), is larger than any car I have every owned but a pretty reasonable size for Fairbanks (and the US in general, as far as I can tell). I sometimes park next to a “full size” truck that has a huge decal for “Permafrost Beards” in the rear window. Permafrost Beards is a proudly veteran owned and operated company that makes all natural beard care products inspired by the discontinuous permafrost of interior Alaska.

    I took out the rear seats out of my ford and put in a basic plywood platform (first visit to Home Depot! Very exciting! Non-metric units are so dumb!) for better car camping. I tried out my setup at a winter camping place at the park entrance and was surprised to find it almost full. People come to hang out for an evening and have a bbq next to their car. Summer mode seems unrelated to snow and cold and entirely related to how much daylight there is. If it's -20°C and you have to shovel out the grill but it's light enough that you can do it without a headlight at 7pm, then it is reasonable to have that bbq wearing 3 down jackets.

    Following a successful night in my vehicle, I got an early start towards the N side of Panorama Mountain - the whole mountain is an obvious road side attraction of steep couloirs, all the more obvious because it's the only such thing (emphasis on "roadside") between Fairbanks and Hatcher Pass. An hour or so into the day, alternatively postholing and front pointing on a 45 degree slope while awkwardly thrashing through alder, I admitted defeat and turned around. Aggressively snowplowing through resistant alder back to the road I contemplated that I was 1) alone 2) I don't know what the deal is with bears, don't they wake up around now? 3) noone knows where I am 4) everyone I know is on a different continent.

    On the way back down, having felt better about myself and this whole Alaska thing:


    Typical Ak scenery (???)


    By the time I got back to the park road turn off I had managed to pull myself together enough for another attempt to find turns, with a rewarding, redeeming result on relatively low hanging but no less sweet fruit spied from Jimbob's secret stash the other day.

    Much better






    Decent playground


    So decent in fact that I went back the next week and convinced this guy to join me:


    Good snow in the interior! No plane needed! OMG!!!


    tbc
    Last edited by klar; 08-10-2018 at 02:07 AM.
    Ich bitte dich nur, weck mich nicht.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    Vanity Fair
    Posts
    2,687
    Mid May:

    Managed to latch onto a crew of actual ~skiers~ (a rar thing in fbx) or a midweek excursion to rainbow ridge. T had been trying out his Furberg split and hardboot setup at Skiland a few weeks ago (a most unusual sight at Skiland) and we shared a couple of lift rides. We established that we had some aquaintances in common and that I am desperate for ski partners. He was nice enough to give me his number.

    We just started getting sunburnt at our half way up lunch spot when a bear momma and her two kids came straightlining down our intended line to the summit. She noticed us after some yelling on our part and adjusted her path, angling back into an uphill traverse, to eventually disappear behind rainbow ridge. 





    Climbing the bear's line.



    This guy had a very impressive sunburn to match his shirt.



    Note bear tracks.


    Sunburn guy all in black, dropping in, Richardson Hwy and the ever present pipeline below. Snow was just short of too wet, overall experience restored some of the sanity that seems to be getting lost during office hours.



    ***********

    Another weekend, another afternoon in the park wandering up some bump, followed by a night in the car. The ptarmigans seemed very hormonal and were out in force.






    The park road was open to Teklanika campground that weekend and I got an early-ish start biking further in towards Cathedral Mountain. Snowchickens and ground squirrels still out in force. Pretty sure I saw a distant lynx (!!!!). Stashed bike by the road at the bottom of a promising looking drainage leading up to a steep chute off some little side peak of Cathedral.

    Skinned for about 40 minutes and was about to turn into a narrower gully that would get me to the main bowl, when this guy entered that same gully from above. He was unimpressed by my yelling and continued down the side of the gully to a nice little lookout, where he sat and stared at me. I stared back for a few minutes and then turned back, retracing my steps to the bike and the car.







    Oh well.





    Actually, I wasn't all that blasé about the experience and stopped my solo wanderings for a bit. Having big predators in the vicinity is a new experience and I don't know how I feel about this.

    **************

    Another weekend, another visit to everyone's favourite roadside ridge in the interior. Fun to have some company for a change. Sarah and I have a few mutual friends to gossip about, Annika distinguished herself on her first ever ski tour, Marc was pretty in pink.

    The approach is getting a little brushy.



    Still not too bad though.















    tbc
    Ich bitte dich nur, weck mich nicht.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2017
    Location
    Zurich, Switzerland
    Posts
    237
    You made my day with this awesome report. As fellow euro I have to say this seems very much cliche alaskan (I guess that is a good thing) - pleas continue to report from the bears and the mountains and the live over there!

    btw: are you still working for powderguide.com from there?

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    Posts
    366
    This is fantastic. Looking forward to more sharing of lines with bears.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Posts
    1,260
    Staring at this from my summer in Japan is just crippling. Thank you. What a story.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    pdx
    Posts
    10,004
    Love the dry humor & great pics

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    Methow Valley
    Posts
    660
    Thanks Klar, that made my morning of terrible air quality and 100 degree(38C) heat. I hope summer in Fairbanks is going well.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Location
    NH
    Posts
    447
    Bravo. The DMV into the reindeer discussion...full marks.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2014
    Location
    Montreal, Canada
    Posts
    835
    Love this, thanks for sharing. Just what i needed mid summer. Keep it coming!
    21° 12°

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Summit North
    Posts
    5,382
    You certainly do seem to be making the best of the situation.
    Great post/read, looking forward to more.
    Alpental Indigenous

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Location
    Der Town
    Posts
    5,804
    Quote Originally Posted by John_B View Post
    Thanks Klar, that made my morning of terrible air quality and 100 degree(38C) heat. I hope summer in Fairbanks is going well.
    Agreed 100%

    "It's a dry heat"

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    the junkshow
    Posts
    7,335
    Nice TR

    Learned this term recently while visiting Juneau. I could get down with that.
    Many are Alaskatarians, meaning they are vegetarians but will eat Alaskan salmon and wild meat. Some keep hunting bows in their cars so they can shoot caribou should one appear by the side of the road.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    PNW
    Posts
    4,403
    Bravo.
    PE, Mechanical Engineering

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Sep 2001
    Location
    Before
    Posts
    18,793
    +++++++
    Merde De Glace On the Freak When Ski
    >>>200 cm Black Bamboo Sidewalled DPS Lotus 120 : Best Skis Ever <<<

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Posts
    4,395
    Funny shit, nice work.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    632
    Love this TR!
    Quote Originally Posted by My Pet Powder Goat View Post
    Come for the poo-slinging, Save a fortune on a plumber.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Location
    BoZone
    Posts
    368
    Great post...thanks!
    Buy the ticket...take the ride.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Beer:30
    Posts
    5,843
    Fantastic writing and photos!

    PS- non-Metric = Freedom Units
    Quote Originally Posted by Norseman View Post
    All ye punterz! Leave thine stupid heavy skis in the past, or at least in the resort category, for the age of lightweight pussy sticks is upon us! Behold! Keep up with the randocommandos on their carbon blades of shortness! Break thine tibias into spiral splinters with pintech extravagance!

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Posts
    9,880
    What a great report! I lived in fbks for a sort of long time and your pictures really took me back. Nice!

    “The mountain’s out”
    I swear on my glass eye,

  21. #21
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Location
    PNW
    Posts
    3,029
    Awesome! Moose mtn looks fun

  22. #22
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Seattle
    Posts
    27,917
    Awesome stuff Klar.

    Keep it coming.
    Quote Originally Posted by Downbound Train View Post
    And there will come a day when our ancestors look back...........

  23. #23
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    NorCal
    Posts
    2,534
    Thanks for putting this together. Great TR.

  24. #24
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Location
    cordova,AK
    Posts
    2,466
    looks like you are getting around hopefully you are enjoying your time here. stick around and you could go dip netting. props for sleeping in the car in winter.
    off your knees Louie

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    Posts
    29
    Klar, I really wish you'd post more trip reports.
    You maybe have a secret treasure-trove of unseen Euro-land photos?

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