Meet the 2021 Denali West Buttress Ski Team!

We’ve been looking forward to this trip for a long while after last season was put on hold. This will be our first guided full ski ascent and descent of Denali in almost a decade. Back in the 1970s, founder of Mountain Trip Gary Bocarde led many expeditions primarily on skis (expert telemark skills were required!) but these teams did not generally ski on the more consequential upper mountain. Our last guided ski descent was back in 2012. The West Buttress and Denali in general have become a much more popular ski destination in the past five years, and with advances in backcountry touring gear, it’s arguably the Golden Age of human powered skiing in the Alaska Range.

The team will have the chance of a lifetime to make turns in one of the most beautiful and inspiring mountain ranges on earth and enjoy many conveniences that come along with traveling on skis. (Breaking trail? That just means it’s a powder day!) This trip not only takes a high amount of fortitude to endure all of the conditions a massive mountain near the Arctic Circle may throw at you, but also years of experience skiing in the backcountry and climbing mountains year round.

Today, the team will assemble in Anchorage to get everyone together in person for the first time. From there, they’ll pack the snack lunches that will fuel them up and down the mountain for up to 22 days, go through all of the gear they have hauled up to Alaska, and make any last minute adjustments to their kits (while outdoor shops are still within reach). Tomorrow, they’ll load up and drive several hours north through the Alaskan bush to the small, outpost hamlet of Talkeetna, the gateway to Denali National Park and jumping off point for most climbing and skiing expeditions into the Alaska Range.

Let’s meet the skiers!

Zach Braddock

Sean Ratkus

Ross (Teofil) Rapach

The Mountain Trip guide team has an absolute wealth of ski experience, both in the Alaska Range and the lower-48. Lead guide Aaron Diamond is a fully-certified Ski and Rock Guide through the AMGA, who spends much of his year guiding and teaching avalanche education in the Tetons, but also has skied and guided many large objectives in Alaska, including a first descent of Avalanche Spire, an incredibly aesthetic and massive descent in the Alaska Range. The second guide for the trip will be Josh Jesperson, who is based in southwest Colorado, and spends his time guiding and teaching avalanche courses with Silverton Avalanche School. Josh spent six years as a Navy SEAL and has a number of very impressive ski missions under his belt in Colorado, including a full traverse of the notoriously steep and craggy Sangre de Cristo range, riding all 54 of the state’s 14,000′ peaks, as well as a few trips into the Alaska Range. Rounding out the guide team is Brian Burger, also based in Jackson, Wyoming. When he’s not skiing off the high peaks of the Tetons or throwing backflips, you can find Brian running remote rivers around the world in his kayak. This will be Brian’s second trip up the mountain this season after a successful summit earlier in the month, and we imagine that he’s excited to be on skis this time around.

The team will do their best to call in daily updates from the route with their progress and some details from the day. However, occasional extraneous circumstances may prevent this, like a large storm or topographical features interfering with their reception, exhaustion after a big day, or no update to their status. Keep in mind always that “no news is good news” from the team, and that we will update whenever possible! Subscribe to the updates to receive an email notification once we upload dispatches from the team. Loved ones following along from home are more than welcome to post comments on each post, but remember that the team won’t be able to see these comments until they’re back in Talkeetna after the expedition.

Best of luck to the team!

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1 Comment

  1. Enjoy your journey, Zach! I’m enjoying the updates. I can’t wait to hear you tell of this dream adventure of yours once you return. Prayers for health and safety of you and your team! I love you!

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