The sleepy little town of Haines, Alaska
Not that I need any encouragement to go heliskiing, but after the horrible season we had in Colorado this year I definitely needed a snow fix by the time April rolled around. And what better place to get some spring skiing in than Haines, Alaska where April is prime time as the temps get milder and the days longer.
The featured item on Day One's menu
The season in Haines doesn’t start till mid February and I had been following the reports since. While Alaska had record snows early, by the time we arrived it hadn’t snowed in two weeks so we weren’t sure what to expect. We soon found there was nothing to worry about as is usually the case when you have tens of thousands of acres in your permit area.
The run above, as seen from below
We spent most of the first day on a run called Canadian Buns, so named because it butts up against the Canadian border. It’s actually part of an area known as Buns of Steel because that’s what you need to negotiate the 4000 vertical feet from the top. On this day we called it pure heaven as it was covered with lovely soft powder and totally untracked (at least when we started – almost all the tracks above were made by our group).
Check out the plush carpeting
As you can see from the pic above, the snow was very user friendly so even though the helicopter could have taken us anywhere we wanted to go, we stayed put and would still be there if we hadn’t run out of daylight.
David enjoying a taste of the fresh
Every day it got a little warmer but it didn’t matter as while the runs happily transitioned from sweet powder to perfect ripping corn they all retained the same basic characteristics – steep sustained pitches with lots of untracked lines, and really, what else do you need?
Yes, they really do ski stuff like this in Alaska - this one's called Tomahawk
Fortunately I had a great crew to enjoy this all with led by David Cole, the man who (thankfully) convinced me that I really needed to check out Alaska last year and who I now wouldn’t consider visiting Haines without. He brought another steep freak fiend named Aaron who brought another friend named Justin and were joined by two Taos vets, Keith and the Flying Frenchman, Eric. See the happy family below.
What's not to smile about?
As usual we stayed at the luxurious Plywood Palace which this year had been stripped of every non essential item and even some essential ones like silverware and lightbulbs – but hey, it’s a step up from a lot of the other lodging like the employee housing below.
Prime Haines real estate - location, location, location
But of course no one visits Haines for the indoor accommodations – it’s the stuff outside that makes any of the comfort sacrifices seem trivial. People come from all over the world and sit for weeks just to get a couple of days and once you’ve been there when it’s good, it’s not hard to understand why.
Aaron shows how real men do it
As I’ve mentioned before, even if you didn’t ski it would be worth visiting just for the scenery. You hear a lot about global warming these days but up there there are glaciers as far as you can see in every direction. All I can say is we better not be ruining it for future generations…
Typical heli landing pad view
Hitching a ride back up the mountain
And of course I need to give a big shout out to the folks at Alaska Heliskiing. As always they took care of everything we needed as I personally went through several rolls of duct tape in a somewhat futile effort to keep all my gear functioning. No one is there for the money or the fame, just the opportunity to do some of the best skiing in the world and help others enjoy it at the same time.
Once more into the fray...
So once again I come back from a helitrip and feel like one of the luckiest men in the world. We skied 6 days in a row which is highly unusual up there as all it takes are some clouds and flat light to ground you. We had blue skies, mild temps and no wind – the perfect recipe for spring skiing. And as always I’ve never felt more alive than when I was on the top of one of those mountains testing my skills and becoming one with the hill. That may sound a little new agey but if you’ve ever been there I’m sure you know what I mean. If there is a god, I’m sure he’s spent some time in Haines, Alaska…