Backpacker

Untracked Alaska

IT’S FOUR IN THE AFTERNOON AND A THICK FOG HANGS OVER RUTH GLACIER. IT CONCEALS THE 12,000-FOOT PEAKS THAT RISE ABOVE THE AMPHITHEATER OF ICE, DROPS THE TEMPERATURE TO ABOUT 10°F, AND FLATTENS THE LIGHT. NOT IDEAL CONDITIONS FOR SKIING. THAT’S A SHAME, BECAUSE THE MOUNTAINS CIRCLING THE GLACIER, IN THE HEART OF DENALI NATIONAL PARK, ARE SUPPOSEDLY FLUSH WITH COULOIRS, SPINES, AND OPEN POWDER FACES. THE FEW WHO HAVE BEEN HERE SAY IT’S WORLD-CLASS TERRAIN THAT LACKS ONLY ONE THING: SKIERS.

I’ve come here to find out just how good—and empty—the Ruth Glacier really is. Denali is known for backpacking and mountaineering. Could it also harbor some of the world’s best backcountry skiing?

Dan Corn, a guide with 11 years of experience in Denali, isn’t fazed by the fog. We’re standing on the glacier and he gestures toward the socked-in terrain, cataloguing invisible features like a gardener ticking off flowers yet to bloom: “The Rooster Comb, Dan Beard, the Japanese Couloir.” He pauses, then adds, “I have the gear to get you into any shenanigans you want.”

The offer is exciting and a little unnerving. The mountains rise imposingly from the glacier, creating a 35-square-mile alpine wonderland that’s so remote visitors must arrive by bush plane. And once here, reaching the terrain is an adventure that involves navigating icefall and avoiding hidden crevasses. Corn leads the way, and I start skinning across the glacier, along with Marmot athlete Jess McMillan and photographer Cam McLeod. We’re attached to each other with a rope and keep about two

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