words by Dave Lee:
It’s the end of April, and with mountains closing across the US, I head up to the Alaska coast line to embark on the adventure of a lifetime - A little heli time and surf & splitboard strike by way of boat.
Riders: Ryan Seelbach, Jon Rose, Dave, Kyle Grant
As you know, Alaska has some of the best backcountry snowboarding opportunities in the world, with access to some of the gnarliest lines. A place you can whip up some good trouble, if you’re so inclined.
Before we hit the boat, we jumped on an opportunity that my good friend and Signal Rider Kyle Grant had set up in Haines at Seaba Heli for a few days of classic AK peaks. If it’s true you can drink it blue up there, then after one down day it didn’t take much convincing. After a couple rowdy nights, and a drink they call the Baja Fog (corona with tequila), we woke up with blue skies & bottomless powder for the next three days.
Ripping three to four thousand vertical top to bottom runs started putting the art of backcountry into perspective quickly. Add in a couple toe-in peak drops, the bonus of picking couloirs from a chopper and you suddenly find yourself planning your next trip before you even get back to basecamp.
Our Seaba sessions fully delivered. A heartfelt thank you to the guides and crew up there for getting us into some wild shit. They are true professionals, and when you’re gifted with that confidence it elevates the experience. Board plug for reference, I grabbed a Wampeater 159 for this part of the trip and damn, shit was fire. The nose cuts and floats through all of it. And that pintail? Yeesh. Never once was I worried about going over the nose at speed. I highly recommend this board for bigger backcountry lines.
Next stop: Seward AK. Good friend and ripping surfer/snowboarder Jon Rose had done this trip last year. It was primarily a surf trip, and the Alaskan Surf Guides crew started talking to him about a boat that offers both surf and split touring options. After his experience and seeing the potential on snow, he immediately rebooked and rallied a group of friends to join.
A bit about this boat guided trip with Alaska Surf Guides. Five days living on a boat in search for cold water waves and unridden peaks in the fjords off the Alaskan coast line. Epic. As a group of spirit shredders, we somehow manifested the best out of this week as well. The weather reports were not looking great. Not a lot of surf in forecast, yet we managed to get two days of surf, one head high and pumping. Btw, the water on average is 39 degrees. Fucking cold! After an hour that cold starts to hit the body and you just gotta keep moving, paddling, whatever it takes to generate warmth. Wild times, in wild terrain. While just sitting in the line up we saw a seal pop up twenty feet away with a huge half of fish torn apart. Dude just gobbled it down, no big deal. A little alarming at first, and a little like “okay, well at least he’s eaten…”
After scoring some surf, the waves flattened out and the peak search began. Here’s where I get to talk up my friends. These guys are the fucking best. They are also incredibly talented and experienced riders. Watching them plot and plan the routes to summit peaks that have yet to be ridden was next level.
There was more mountaineering on this part of the trip than I’m used to, and my new friends Jack, Dustin and Ryan who guide in Colorado were crucial in planning the routes and making sure we were finding the safe routes. Tbh, this was the first time I’ve splitboarded in this kind of environment. I’ve been out in mellow terrain in the Southern Sierras, but never around variable snow conditions, glacier crossings, and parts where you find yourself needing to transition to crampons with ice axe ready. I was listening, learning and following the crew up to the top. Mind blown every moment we stopped to look around.
It was five to six hours up to the peak, twenty minutes down. Earning those turns. At the summit it was like looking over the edge of the world. You could see our boat out in the distance, a spec in the ocean. The snow wasn’t the best, but it was decent up top and corn snow towards the bottom. But you know what? Didn’t even matter.
End of the day we were sitting on the boat looking up at our skin tracks up to the summit and the shred lines down… I gotta say, there’s nothing quite like it. I realized for the first time, Splitboarding on this level is more of a team experience, especially in carefully guided conditions. There is a common goal and everyone is working together to keep each other safe. It’s a very satisfying experience. All-in-all, this goes down as one of the best of the best experiences in snowboarding for me. Extremely grateful to be part of this trip.
Wrapping up it’s important to point out, part of this epic adventure is that I got to become a student again. Listen and learn from those with more experience. As someone who has been at it for 35 years, that’s pretty fucking awesome.
Riders: Dave Lee, Jon Rose, Jack Klim, Dustin Eldridge, Ryan Seelbach, Ryan Riggins