Heli Skiing with Chugach Powder Guides

One thing I've always dreamed of experiencing up is heli-skiing, especially in Alaska where the mountains are just so huge. While the skiing at Alyeska is awesome, the chance to ski heli-ski in Alaska was on my bucket list. I was lucky enough to get a day booked with Chugach Powder Guides. When they called me back to confirm the details on Monday, I was beyond excited.

The following morning, our day was off to an interesting start. Usually, Chugach Powder Guides leaves right from the airport in Girdwood, but there was a bit of weather in the the area. They made some adjustments to their plans and flew from Palmer, about 1 1/2 hours away. Before we left, we received our safety briefing, instructions on gear, and some details on what to expect. I was very impressed how much planning goes in to just one day of skiing. Tracking the weather, getting us setup with safety gear, coordinating the groups, planning the areas we'd ski, etc... The thought of what I was about to experience was still sinking in, and from the outside you couldn't tell, but I was psyched. I think I was just taking it all in quietly.

My guide, Nick, and I drove down to Palmer and got to know each other a bit. He grew up in New Hampshire and also grew up skiing back east. He also took outdoor education courses in Leadville, Colorado before becoming a guide. He got his start guiding ski tours and other outdoor adventures before starting as a heli ski guide about 5 years ago. What a career. I mean, everything that's happened over the past few months has been something I thought wasn't possible until recently. Who knows, perhaps I could end up with a completely different career in that industry in the future. No reason I shouldn't dream about it.

We pulled onto the runway in Palmer and got our gear on. The helicopter would be arriving in a few minutes. It landed, they fuels up and we all jumped in. Our group was a total of 6 people, Nick and Matt who both work with CPG, a father and son who were from Maine, our pilot, and me. The heli lifted off and that was really the moment when the reality of this experience set in. So much fun. We headed east, towards the northern end of the Chugach Range, just north of the Knik Glacier. The ride alone over the mountains was spectacular, it was as if the skiing was a huge bonus. The amount of distance we covered in just 15-20 minutes of flying was unbelievable. We went so much farther than we could ski tour to, or where any road could take us. 

We landed for our first run, which was long, not too steep, but long, a spectacular ride all the way back down to where the helicopter would pick us back up. A perfect way to start the day. No one could tell, but this was the moment wheryue I shed a tear. Fortunately my goggles kept me from embarrassing myself. We were surrounded by mountains bigger than I'd ever seen, and so far away. We huddled up, the helicopter landed right by us, we climbed back in, flew up for our next one.

As I mentioned, the way these trips are coordinated are incredibly impressive. While we were skiing our line, our pilot was out flying another group of 5 to ski elsewhere. The mountains out here are so huge, that for a moment you can hear the helicopter, and then there is silence, the whole time another group is off enjoying their runs elsewhere. Plus, going from one run to the next covered so much distance so quickly. At times we reached 120-130 knots in the air. Via walkie, our guides communicate where each group is skiing, being picked up and landing, etc. Plus, back at the office, there is another person keeping tabs on all of this. They also keep close track of fuel, vertical feet skied via the altimeter, etc. Very impressive all the work involved.

Anyhow, it hadn't snowed in little while, but we were north where it was cold, the snow was still dry and untouched, for miles and miles. Fantastic skiing. Actually, fantastic doesn't begin to describe it, it was out of this world. 

Here's a look back at some of our tracks:
And the heli landing where we took took our lunch break:

The guides met up, and assessed everything to see where we were at with fuel etc. We went up for another, this time a bit steeper entrance, Nick climbed down and built a shelf for us to climb down to and  put our skis on. We each got our skis on and again skied the line one by one. The snow was incredible. We got to the bottom and Nick even said, that was even better than I thought it would be, I agreed. I was smiling ear to ear. Here's Nick looking down that line:


It came time for our last run of the day, and 2 of the others from our group decided to sit that run out. I got one more with Nick and Matt. We got out at the top. Nick was leading the group the whole day, but for this one he said to me, go for it. Whew, what a rush, and what a spectacular way to end the day. (that photo is at the top of the page)

On our flight back, I continued to take in the views and reflect on the day. The helicopter gave 2 rides, and brought our other group back to us the van as well. We had a bit of a drive back to Girdwood, and while many of the others were so psyched, I stayed mostly quiet. Richard later commented that I was smiling the whole hour and a half back. I'm pretty sure I was. That was a day I won't forget.