Matanuska Peak

Matanuska Peak is a very prominent and accessible peak near the Butte. It overlooks the Valley from its perch between the Knik and Matanuska Rivers. With a trailhead and a well-maintained four mile long trail to the top, it is one of the easier 6,000 foot or higher peaks to hike in the Anchorage bowl. It is a less common, but very deserving ski destination. A 3,000 foot long chute descends from near the peak’s summit to the valley and summer trail below.

This chute is easy to see from Palmer. Like many slopes seen straight on, it appears to drop precipitously from the summit of the peak. Several cliff bands break up the chute near the top, but it is possible to weave through them. The very top of the line is quite steep, but it moderates somewhat through the cliff bands and then continues to mellow out as it approaches the valley floor.

Since the chute is generally west-facing, it is convenient for spring corn skiing. Personally, I wouldn’t drop into this line during midwinter conditions. Mat Peak and its surrounding mountains get thrashed by wind, and nobody does professional or even regular avalanche observations from this little wedge of the Chugach Mountains. If you ski it midwinter, be very confident in your ability to do avalanche forecasting, because a slide would be nasty. The chute broadens enough that it would entrain a massive amount of snow. In addition to potentially getting dragged over cliffs, the lower chute narrows and bounces through cliff sidewalls in a nasty terrain trap. All in all, it’s very consequential avalanche terrain. But when conditions stabilize with melt-freeze conditions in spring, it can be the right time to ski the chute. I’ve skied it in good conditions--firm at the top and firm for the lower two thirds--starting in mid-afternoon, though obviously conditions will vary with temperatures and cloud cover. In April, sun starts to hit the chute obliquely not too long after noon. In addition to avalanches, be aware of rockfall from loose rocks released when the south-facing side of the chute softens in morning sun.

Unfortunately, it is quite hard to nail conditions for Mat Peak that include skiing car to car. The summer approach trail is in a low-snow accumulation zone, and several south-facing portions of the trail tend to melt out early. With luck, years with decent snow coverage will allow you to ski most or all of the approach in early April. If not, the summer trail provides a relatively straightforward approach.

There aren’t many non-technical, easy day trips with 3,000 descents from 6,000 foot peaks that overlook Anchorage or the Valley. When spring arrives and you’re boot-ridden with peak fever, consider skiing off Matanuska Peak.


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