Alpine tundra often brings unimpeded views, easy walking, and an indescribable lightness of being. It also usually requires several hours of hiking to reach. But what if you could skip the exhausting hike and just drive there? The Thompson Pass is a great opportunity, rain or shine, to take advantage of easy access to this special environment—make the time for a stop.
There are spots to pull over on either side of the road-cut that marks the top of Thompson Pass. From here you’re free to explore. You can hike further up the ridge, or just slip around the bend a few minutes from the car. Look for alpine wildflowers, listen for the high-pitched whistle of the marmot (Alaskan groundhog), smell the mountain air, and scan the mountains for bear.
If the weather is intimidating, it’s one more opportunity to experience the thrill of the alpine without putting yourself at too much risk. This part of the Chugach Mountains gets clobbered by rain and snow and wind. Storms come off the North Pacific, run into this massive coastal range, and dump their loads. The average snowfall at Thompson pass exceeds 700 inches (the 24-hour record is 90 inches!). If you look at a map of Alaska, the vast glaciers and ice fields that line the coast are a testament to this volume of precipitation—most of which never reaches interior Alaska.
And as you walk around this area, you’ll be surrounded by some of the most well-respected ski terrain in the world. Local skiers and snowboarders drive here to access challenging terrain, while helicopters land on dozens of these peaks and drop off high-paying clients for very long— and often very steep—ski runs. In fact, almost all of the extreme ski movies made in the last 20 years include footage from this area. If you’re wondering if a particular mountain has been skied, or if you’re creating possible ski lines in your head, you’re starting to get how it rolls around here.