Video: skiing and snowboarding from the summit of Denali

What does it take to ski Denali, North America‘s’ tallest mountain? In addition to a large, metaphorical pair of cojones, which all of the men and women of this film possess, it takes sheer endurance and will to want to climb 20,320 feet just to ski right back down.

The Denali Experiment is a 15-minute film that follows a band of some of the world’s best skiers and snowboarders on their quest to ride the powder from the top of Alaska. But this is hardly a film full of hot dog moves. Director Renan Ozturk gives viewers a good sense of how difficult the trek to Denali’s summit can be, as well as shows us how fulfilling it can be to complete an adventure one once thought was impossible.

Only in Alaska: The tallest mountain in the world

Can you name the tallest mountain in the world? Did Mt. Everest just pop into your head? If so, you’re close – but not totally correct.

Mt. Everest, at 29,029ft, is the highest mountain in the world. But Everest’s base is way up on the Tibetan Plateau at 17,000 feet. So although this mountain reaches an elevation higher than any other on the planet, its base-to-summit height is actually closer to 12,000 feet.

If we measure from base to summit, Alaska’s Mt. McKinley (known locally by its native name Denali, or “the high one”), is the tallest mountain in the world. (Caveat: the folks in Hawaii might take issue with this, as Mauna Kea stretches over six miles, though only 13,796 feet of those are above water.)

But Denali’s base sits near 2,000 feet, giving this mountain a rise of 18,000 feet. In fact, Denali has an entire wall that stretches longer than many mountains at 13,652 feet. Wickersham Wall, as its called, is one continuous drop – and yes, people have skied it. Crazy people. Another fun fact about Denali is that it actually has two summits. The South Summit is the taller of the two, and naturally the one most climbed. The North Summit is no shorty at 19,470 feet, but is often ignored by those collecting peaks. When it comes to conquering mountains, elevation definitely matters.When it comes to seeing the tallest mountain in the world, North Americans are in luck. The peak can be viewed from afar in Anchorage, Alaska, the biggest city in the state. The best accessible views, however, are out of Talkeetna, a small town about a two-hour drive from Anchorage. This tiny town also serves as the base for the climbers who come to make summit attempts on Denali, so you can chat up those folks with crazy sunglasses tan lines about their experiences.

Coming up next: flight-seeing Mt. McKinley.

Who pays for rescue efforts when people are lost? Who should?

A few days ago, Kraig wrote about the three hikers lost on Mt. Hood. At the time of his post, one of the hikers had been found dead. The other two were still missing. Almost a week after they set out on their climb, they are still missing and most probably are dead. Because of this tragic situation, the question of who foots the bill for rescue efforts has come up once more.

Back in 2005, then Gadling blogger Erik Olsen wrestled with the question about who should pay–the lost hiker who hopefully is found–or tax payers? Olsen’s musings came about after a hiker hurt his ankle while hiking in Colorado. Several fire departments rescued the hiker after he spent a night on the mountain. The sticker price for the rescue was $5,000. In this case, the fire departments wanted the hiker to pay.

Usually, the people who are getting rescued don’t pay anything. But is that fair? Rescue attempts can be pricey. Consider this: From 1992 to 2007, the U.S. National Park Service spent $58 million on search and rescue efforts.

This recent Newsweek article echoes some of Erik’s points. As the article highlights, the hard economics question of who should pay for rescue attempts has as many facets to consider as it always has.

While one might say that people who take risks by heading up a mountain top or straying off a path should pay up once he or she is found, there are other factors to keep in mind.

  • One is a concern that people may avoid calling for help until it’s too late out of fear for what a rescue attempt might cost.
  • Some risks are unknown. A beautiful sunny day could go sour if the wind shifts, for example. Should people be punished when nature is at fault?
  • A large portion of rescue attempts are made by volunteers, therefore the cost is curtailed.
  • When fire departments and military units are part of rescue efforts, they often have hours to log towards rescues. A real live rescue helps them meet their quota.
  • Sometimes a rescue attempt may be launched even though the hiker is not in danger. A seasoned hiker may be holed up somewhere waiting for more favorable hiking conditions while a family member is frantic with worry.

With the knowledge that lost hikers are part of the outdoor scene, being financially proactive seems to be the best approach for handling costs before they occur. Colorado, for example, collects a small portion of the money from state recreational fees to put into a fund that is earmarked for search and rescue.

In Alaska, people who are mountain climbing up Mount McKinley pay $200 for the privilege.

Although planning for a tragic situation is never pleasant, it seems that in this case, planning ahead for the ” just in case” is sound. Otherwise, at the worst possible moment, people will be faced with the question, “How much is a life worth?

New hybrid buses being tested for Denali National Park tours in Alaska

Tourism in Denali National Park, home to 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, could get a lot greener before we know it.

If you’ve been to Denali you know that the park forbids personal cars for the 92-mile length of the park road. Instead, visitors catch a diesel bus near the park entrance. The road is the only way to get into and out of the park.

Park officials are now testing out a hybrid tour bus to eventually replace the fleet of 110 diesel buses that take thousands each year to view North America’s highest mountain and the wildlife that surrounds it.

Officials tell the Associated Press that these hybrids reduce the amount carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent, nitrogen oxide emissions by another 20 percent and particulate emissions by 30 percent.

That translates into a much more environmentally friendly vehicle for one of the country’s most beautiful…environments.

Officials are also touting the gas efficiency of the hybrids, since diesel fuel in the area is topping out at around $5 a gallon. The hybrid bus requires around 70 percent less fuel as the park’s current diesel buses.

The hybrid system combines a diesel engine with an 80-kilowatt powertrain that incorporates a transmission, batteries and an electric motor, the AP reports.

Right now the park is looking to slowly phase out its diesel fleet, and officials tell the AP it could replace anywhere from two to 12 buses each year with the hybrid models.

But this will come with a significant price tag: Each hybrid bus costs $200,000 — twice as much as the buses currently in use.