Unskied Lines #1: Mt. Francis, AK
Ed. Note: All year, we read about and look at photos of beautiful, hairball lines around the world, which generally have one thing in common: human beings riding down them.
But in honor of the lines that are either so gnarly or difficult to access that they have never been descended, this winter we began calling around to some of the planet's top freeskiers and ski mountaineers -- Chris Davenport, Dean Cummings and Andrew McLean, among others -- in the hopes of compiling a list. Since we started, the list has grown to include lines from Alaska to the Andes to the Himalaya, and everywhere in between.
As this series unfolds, you might see an unfathomably steep spine, or a giant peak, or a face so broken it would require multiple rappels to link the skiable sections. The only two requirements of each line are: 1) it has never been fully skied, and 2) it could be, given the right conditions.
Mount Francis: Valdez, Alaska
Anyone who has been to the Chugach Range knows the skiing possibilities are as close to infinite as you will find on Planet Earth. Former World Extreme Skiing Champion and heli-skiing pioneer Dean Cummings, who has made countless first descents in and around his adopted home of Valdez, AK, estimates that only 2 percent of peaks in the range have names.
One of them is Mount Francis, the biggest peak you can see looking dead east from downtown Valdez. It juts from sea level to 5,023 feet and points like a shark fin at the summit.
To ski Mount Francis' harrowing north face -- a line worthy of its unskiedness, Cummings said -- would take a combination of guts, otherworldly air skills and edge control, and ideal snow conditions -- enough velvety, maritime powder to support a giant drop, but not too much instability to make the descent any more perilous than it already is.
"You drop in and ski about 150 vertical feet off the summit on a 50- to 60-degree pitch," Cummings said, "and then you gotta give 'er. It's about a 60-foot drop and you land on a 48- to 50-degree ramp that ends in a 300-foot cliff, so there's this little catwalk into an exit couloir that you have to hit. It's easy to hit: Just don't miss it.
"The hard part about this line is if it sluffs or slides, it'd be a hard one to get out of. I think there's only a couple of guys who are worthy for it as far as experience goes -- Seth and Sage. They're the only ones with enough patience."