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The Haines Pass: First Recorded Descent on Roller Skis
By:  Colin Abbott   (2010/08/18)

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The Haines Road is one of the only roads leading from the mountains of the Yukon to the coast of Southeast Alaska. Over the past 15 years or so, it has almost entirely been re-paved with 500 million dollars worth of U.S. taxpayer money. The paved shoulders on the road are absolutely, obscenely massive- 2 or 3 meters wide in most places. While the traffic the road receives hardly warrants the quality of road, the few roller skiers and bikers that use the road are not complaining.

The road itself undulates for over a hundred kilometers out of the Yukon up to 3300 feet before plunging down close to sea level in the space a few kilometers. Every year people bike the road, and roller skiers have been known to double pole up it for an excruciating workout, but I have never heard of anyone descending it.

Once you clear the high point on the road, it is a straight shot of 10km down into Alaska. The road drops 1900 feet in that distance.

As I clipped into my skis high in the alpine at the top of the pass and started rolling, I realized there was no stopping until I hit the bottom. Anything less than a successful run would be a disaster. A crash on roller skis at any speed is rarely fun, but when your speed doesn't drop below 35km/h, the consequences of falling seem much more real.

I soon dropped into the first, and fastest pitch on the road. Instead of concentrating on keeping my skis straight, my mind wandered to Alain Masson's stories of roller-skiing in the 80's and having wheels fall off, jam and disintegrate underneath him. After a few minutes I put those thoughts out of my mind when my wheels started torquing my body in strange new ways. I was definitely going faster than I ever had before. The needling whine of rubber on pavement, bearings on steel, and air on spokes climbed to the edge of my hearing. Muscles I'd never felt before started to get sore as I fought to keep the skis under control. As the minutes wore on and I stayed in a tuck, my neck got more and more tired, my back ached, my eyes watered, my feet went numb, my quads screamed and my heart pounded. After 16 agonizing minutes, I saw the gentle climb that signaled the end of my descent. I stood up and slowly rolled to a stop, and as blood flowed into my legs, I breathed a sigh of relief. I survived!


Getting started at the top.


The view.


Rollin' on down.

 
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