Californian adventurer’s 240-mile solo ski plan in Alaska is cut short by harsh conditions

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By the second morning of what was to be a three-week excursion through a remote Alaskan mountain range, Roland Banas knew he had gone as far as he could.

He woke up in his tent and tested the snow. It was dry and deep. Still, he attempted to break the trail while towing his 140-pound supply sled behind him. Having barely covered 1 mile after battling for three hours, Banas decided he had had enough. Conditions weren’t cooperating, and at this rate, it would take him at least twice his allotted time to complete his journey.

“I was falling to my knees even with skis on,” Banas said. “The sled was buried 6 to 10 inches in the snow. It was like an anchor.

Banas, a 47-year-old lone adventurer who lives in Orangevale, Sacramento County, traveled to the Arctic Circle last week with the goal of skiing 240 miles alone through the Brooks Range, a rare and ambitious goal. in winter. The range is one of the most remote places on earth and is dangerous in winter, when it freezes in an ice-covered landscape with sub-zero temperatures, blizzards, precarious river crossings and packs of wolves. itinerant. He turned away more experienced ski mountaineers than Banas.

Australian adventurer John Cantor has traveled the Brooks several times in winter and has attempted two crossings since 2014. He pulled out both times after he and his partner suffered frostbite, the leg before the frostbite. He called the range “a terrifying place”.

A view of the Brooks Range in Alaska from Roland Banas’ solo skiing attempt.

Provided by Roland Banas

Banas set off from the small town of Ambler on March 1, following a snowmobile trail over a frozen river in the white landscape. He had prepared for temperatures in the range of minus 20 to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit and was surprised to find himself skiing just in a t-shirt as he approached the entry of the range in the hovering air. in the 20’s.

He rode about 13 miles the first day and set up camp. On the second day, struggling in the dry snow, he turned back towards Ambler.

“When I called (to turn back) I wasn’t very happy,” he said. “But I think it was the right choice.”

A mountain guide with whom he had stayed in town confirmed that the weather and snow conditions were abnormal for this time of year.

“They told me that if the snow is deep here, it could be even deeper in the mountains,” he said.

Banas returned home on Friday and spent the weekend with his two sons. He hasn’t given up on the idea of ​​another shot at Brooks Range.

“The way my brain works, I probably won’t let it down,” he said. “If I wasn’t strong enough or prepared enough, that would be a good reason not to try again. But the conditions were super unusual. I’ll give it another chance.

Gregory Thomas is The Chronicle’s Lifestyle and Outdoors Editor. Email: [email protected]: @GregRThomas