Alaska – the last frontier


The view from our cabin - the massive face of "Hangover Helper" (first run day 2) Haines Alaska

For years I’ve been hearing epic tales of  heliskiing in Alaska and seen numerous film segments of mind boggling terrain. I always assumed that terrain would be off limits to me as while I’ve spent a lot of time on a snowboard I’m certainly no alpha dog. But thanks to the prodding of an old heliskiing associate, I decided to give it a shot and boy am I glad I did.

First taste of some Alaskan fresh

The Alaskan heli scene is quite different from your typical heli operation. Out go the luxury lodges, 5 course meals and highly structured schedules. Here everything is about the skiing and everyone is on board with that. We’re staying in what is known as the “plywood palace” where the big challenge is trying to get hot water in the shower. However, the views are spectacular, the company good and as they say in real estate it’s “location, location, location”.

Typical run at Haines - notice guide circled in red

And it’s not just the accommodations in Alaska that are different – what really stands out is the terrain. This is true big mountain, technical skiing the likes of which I’ve never experienced anywhere else. Had they shown me pictures first of where we were going to ski I probably would have passed but once they dropped us off I discovered that not only was it rideable, it was a tremendous amount of fun. If you look closely at the picture above, you will notice a skier circled in red – our guide who is posted up in a place where he can keep an eye on us while we’re doing the run. The guides here are just like the clients in that they are huge powder hounds albeit with a lot more experience and thus would take us to places they wanted to ski – in other words to what is more commonly known as “the goods”.

Scouting from the heli

Where's Waldo - can you spot the two skiers in this photo?

The two pictures above best demonstrates how we worked with our guide. First he would point out potential routes from the helicopter on the way up. Then he would scout the slope, set up in a spot where he could keep an eye on us, and then send us down one at a time giving us instructions via radio when we needed them.  I had never skied terrain like this but was very pleased to discover I could.

Ripping it up on Old Faifthful

Mike avoiding the slough and enjoying some turns

The gods really blessed our group on this trip as we managed to hit the best conditions of the year so far with deep light snow, great stability, and most importantly good visibility.  The forecast before we came called for rain/snow every day and the week before they were down almost all week but fortunately for us the forecasts were wrong and we’ve flown all week till today. But when they are down it usual means it’s dumping up top and that was the bounty we found when we got out there. When our guide warned us to watch out for our “face shots” on a particularly steep run we knew we were in for a good time.

Yes, we really did ski the mountain I'm looking at

And here's what it looked like from above

The two shots above are of a run called “Indy 5000” – the 5000 being a reference to the 5000 vertical feet that the run covers. It is the kind of run you can only find in Alaska and one I never imagined myself riding. But with a couple of feet of fresh snow it was a blast and a learning experience at the same time. I’ve had to totally reorient my skiing up here – back in Colorado you look for the gullys where all the good snow is – in Alaska you have to stay up on the spines and out of the gullys where all the slough runs into. It’s a whole different way of approaching a mountain but is tons of fun once you get on the program.

Dave airing it out on Old Faithful

There were mellower runs too but what they all had in common was a thick layer of fresh light snow. This provided plenty of opportunities for enjoying the natural features of the terrain as Dave demonstrates above. By day 4 we are all fine with the weather turning funky as our legs were all ready for some rest.

The scenery isn't bad either

What is also hard to imagine even with the help of cameras is how spectacularly beautiful and impressive the Chilkat Range is. Ragged peaks, huge spires and glaciers everywhere you looked. It would have been worth the trip just to see these mountains no less to get to ski down them.

Guide shack at Alaska Heliskiing - note the pirate flag

Of course none of this would be possible without the tremendous folks at Alaska Heliskiing. From the office folk to the guides to Jack who gives us rides everywhere – everyone is super nice and more importantly on top of their game. I had anticipated maybe some attitude since this is one the premier heli spots in the world but no attitude here just a bunch of folks chasing the best skiing in the world.

My partners in crime

Also have to give a big shout out to David Cole (the guy on the right) who convinced me to come up here and his buddy Mike who is more than happy to share any and all beta on a run (and cooks a mean piece of salmon). One of the really fun things about these trips are the people you meet and this one is no exception. I’ve made a bunch of new friends up here in Haines and any time someone leaves the closing line always seems to be “see you up here next year…”


13 Responses to “Alaska – the last frontier”

  • Bill Gallen Says:

    Great story, great conditions. Good for you, Brad!

  • Theresa Says:

    Looks VERY VERY COLD!!!

    Hey if the upper seats are available during the playoffs I would like them. Remember I’m your favorite Colorado Sister-in-law. HA HA

  • Tom Menk Says:

    WOW!!! Great Loveland vidio too!

  • Benita and Miles Says:

    Totally awesome! Happy birthday week, GFS Brad!

  • Janet Says:

    What if you get to the top and you decide it is too steep and ridiculous to go down – will the helicopter come back for you or is it do or die??

  • guv Says:

    awesome!

  • Wendi Gilbert Says:

    What an incredible adventure.
    Many people can snowboard, read about Heliskiing, etc, but you experienced something that so many people will NEVER have the opportunity to know. (as in, experience and embody it, forever more.) You’ve in a private club of folks “going after the powder” and making sure they find it. Let’s hear it for exhilarating, pure joy, FUN!

  • toby grabelle Says:

    Showers? Why?

  • Grant Says:

    Great pictures. Great story. I spent a week in Alaska four years ago. Everything is big and fresh. Good for you. When Zara graduates this year I’m going back. See you on the mountain. Peace.

  • Geoffrey Gilbert Says:

    As fond as I am of the Chilkat Range, four out of five dentists recommend the Chiclet Range for their patients who chew gum while heliskiing in Alaska.

  • Baked Alaskan Says:

    Packing my bags for Haines tomorrow. Forget the skiing, I’m flying the helicopter. Don’t think you will be able to top this one in the 50 states, unless it’s starts dumping on Mauna Kea and you can ski right down to the lava pools. Now, that would be a wild ride! Meanwhile, don’t underestimate yourself, you’re a tremendous slough.

  • Darcy Says:

    WAY COOL BRAD. Glad you experienced it! Hope you continue to do it into your hundreds 🙂 hugs from the minnesota flatlands.

  • Martin Says:

    Nice article. Brings back a lot of good memories. I met at 35 mile just one day and I can confirm that it was just like this even after !

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