Alaska Backcountry Skiing – Book Review

Post by blogger | March 20, 2006      

Like many skiers, I’ve been brainwashed into believing the only way to ski the Valdez Chugach Mountains of Alaska is by helicopter. Boy, was I wrong.

Alaska Backcountry Skiing guidebook.Matt Kinney’s new book is a dream bank. Highly recommended.

Rather than expensive and frequently unreliable aviation access, longtime Valdez backcountry skier Matt Kinney, in his new guidebook “Alaska Backcountry Skiing,” makes it abundantly clear that all you need for the Chugach is a modicum of wilderness skills, skis or splitboard, and a car to drive the Richardson Highway. For miles and miles on the highway Chugach peaks rise up from near sea level, offering everything from gentle tours to faces and couloirs that easily qualify for the latest TGR movie (as some probably have already).

Not only does Kinney make Valdez look like a major candy store for muscle powered skiers — he also details a number of safety considerations that tell you Valdez backcountry glisse is totally unlike ordinary lower-48 jaunts such as powder laps in a Wasatch aspen forest.

We’re talking adventure. Virtually all the terrain in Kinney’s book is not timbered, with associated issues such as wind and whiteouts. Glacier travel is common, river crossings can be an issue, and “wind events” in the Chugach are defined as not how hard you breath while skinning, but rather as howling gales that last for days. Yep, Alaska — when does the next plane leave?

Kinney’s book is more than a bunch of text about routes. It also includes a sprinkling of interesting history, tons of terrific photos carefully noted with slope angles and route lines, and reasonably useful maps (though on all but the shortest routes you’ll want full topo maps along with compass and probably a GPS).

I was also impressed by what Kinney’s book is not. Matt is known as a vociferous anti-helicopter activist. When his book arrived, I took a deep breath and steeled myself for the boorish rant I’m sure Matt was tempted to include. To his credit, Matt left out the politics and value judgments, instead simply ignoring snowmobiles and helicopters, and concentrating on detailing the routes. While I would have preferred at least a bit of comment on where machinery might either assist or interfere with the Valdez muscle powered backcountry experience, it was probably better for someone as opinionated on the issue as Matt to just leave well enough alone.

I’ve read nearly every North American backcountry skiing guidebook ever published, and can honestly say few of them got me dreaming the way Kinney’s book did. My few trips to Alaska have always been memorable adventures, but frequently included intimidating logistics and no small amount of cash outlay (or else involved staying in or near Anchorage, too large a city for my taste). Valdez is a place where Alaskan thrills are available without executing a major expedition, and without machinery other than your car. I’m going. I don’t know when. But I’m going.


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10 Responses to “Alaska Backcountry Skiing – Book Review”

  1. Jason McGowin March 20th, 2006 2:00 pm

    For accessing terrain deeper in the Chugach, the Alaska Mountaineering Club’s Huts can be enjoyed for free by joining the club. I think it’s like $10 per year to join. And plane flights up into the mountains are fairly cheap.

  2. Matt Kinney March 22nd, 2006 9:08 am

    Gee thank Lou…Tabitha and I really sincerely flattered by your review. Thanks for taking the time to read the book…front to back.

    I did use the term “aircraft” once and “snowmachine” once!!! Writing a guide book for this area required a focused technical approach on backcountry skiing, thus the complete lack of politicising the heli issues. It was distracting as I wrote, so decided to ignore it and just write it from my perspective of 27 years of BC skiing here. This book was not the forum for aggravating or addressing that issue. I hope readers appreciate approach.

    Thanks again Lou and.. be seeing you and your son in the Chugach soon.

  3. david lundin April 8th, 2006 8:33 pm

    hi there im trying to get in touch with Matt Kinney, im in new zealand and im trying to pput togeather a trip involving sea kayaking and ski touring, i have be told that he is the man to get the local information from.

    im looking at an expedition style trip. any help would be great, thanks

    david lundin

  4. Don Lapre Jeffery January 26th, 2007 2:11 am

    It is my dream to go to the places like this even once in my lifetime…I love it!!!

  5. Lou October 14th, 2008 7:21 pm

    Watch out for those crazy Alaskans, they just might make you go moose hunting.

  6. Mike January 21st, 2009 2:32 pm

    When I try to order the book through this website it says product not found. What is the best way to purchase this book?

  7. Lou January 21st, 2009 2:34 pm


  8. Matt Kinney January 21st, 2009 3:28 pm

    Its been hot in recent weeks and the publisher is busy restocking, Try REI in Anchorage or Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking in Anchorage. Google Title Wave Books in Anchorage and you can order off their web site or call them.

    You can also order through me, but I charge a bit extra for shipping and lost ski time to fill the order. (-:.

    2nd Edition in 2011.

  9. Anon July 30th, 2013 1:48 pm

    have you checked out another awesome backcountry guidebook by a Valdez resident!

  10. tristan November 5th, 2013 7:50 pm

    hello all, does anyone know how to get a hold of aaron brown, the guy that wrote Chuting Valdez, or how to get a single copy of the book, on his website you can only buy in bulk

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