Skiing the Chugach Day 6: Helicopters & Avalanches

Plow pushing snow into the ocean

I woke up to fat flakes blanketing the sky and ground which usually would be a cause to rejoice but when you’re heli-skiing, this means it’s a “No Fly Day.” Not that there wasn’t plenty to do otherwise- we had to meet our ski group which consisted of Duncan, our guide, Murray, a ski racer from Australia, and William, a financial planner from Houston whose father broke his leg the first day out on this trip. After the introductions, Duncan, Steve and I took off for a mini-avalanche course, beacon rescue, and training on the procedures surrounding helicopter loading/unloading and ethics (DON’T TOUCH THE PILOT’S CHAIR! – got it.)

Beacon Rescue
Received a few more boxes from Columbia- every day is Christmas here. Inside was a new electric jacket which heats up with the touch of a button (perfect for the AK!), some Omni-Heat ski socks, new ski pants, backpack, etc. I had to try everything on as I pulled it out of the box- I was that excited. 
Steve and I reconvened with Duncan for our afternoon outing: a hike in the “Backyard.” When you’re talking Alaska, you’re talking a BIG backyard. Points North Heli’s backyard includes an oceanfront view and a mountain with an elevation rise of over 1,500′. It was this mountain that the three of us set our sights on for some backcountry turns. 
The hike took us through a densely wooded base where my skis, which were strapped to my backpack, constantly knocked snow off onto the back of my neck. We hiked on steadily, sometimes dropping to all fours to make it up the steep incline. With over 7″ of new snow, it was an adventure, but it felt so good to be out of the car and moving those muscles again. Upon reaching the ridgeline, the rewards of the hike were added upon: on the left side the forest cleared and the powdery slope tumbled into the Pacific Ocean, islands dotting the rippling surface; on the right, vast, pure white pitches with craggy tops. 360 degrees of jaw-dropping beautiful.
The mellow part of the hike. Ocean in the background
Photo: Duncan the Guide
As we popped into skis and strapped into snowboards, Duncan explained how we would approach our lines: he, being the guide, would drop in first. This isn’t a case of selfish “I want first tracks.” Being our guide, he is responsible for our safety, and as the first one down, is testing the stability of the snow pack, especially after receiving a fresh layer of coastal snow. He would ski part way to a “safe zone” then call up to me on the radio to head down to him. Going one at a time to minimize avalanche danger to the overall party, we would continue this way until we reached the safety of the trees below. 
Pausing to take a look
Photo: Duncan the Guide
A cloud of white masked his descent over a roller in this untouched powder playground. I shifted my weight from ski to ski, ready to make to follow beside his line when it was my turn. “All clear, Gina. Head down,” Duncan’s voice crackled over the radio. Already grinning, I traversed out to his line, took one mili-second pause to take in the view of the Pacific Ocean again, and pointed the skis down. 
A laugh burst out as I entered my second turn and my grin widened. The snow was sugary soft and tickling my nose as it sprayed up. My skis whispered in the snow as they rebounded into the next arc. It was like floating on an adrenaline-laced cloud. Holy cow, I had waited how long to take part in this??
Stopping in front of Duncan, I looked back uphill. Two sets of deep, round tracks descended the mountain. They looked beautiful. “Those are mine?” I asked half-unbelievingly of my guide. “Yup. Pretty aren’t they?” he nodded in return. 
Yup. Gorgeous.  Can’t wait to get up in the helicopter tomorrow and do it all over again. 

One Response to “Skiing the Chugach Day 6: Helicopters & Avalanches”

  1. Katie Boué

    AH – this post has my heart racing and my adrenaline about to explode (maybe that’s all the Cuban coffee talking). Sounds like you are having a truly phenomenal time, and I am so stoked about all the sweet OmniTen gear you were showered with. Columbia sure knows how to spoil us, and judging by the day you had, they’re definitely ready for us to put it to the test!

    Keep shreddin’, and have a great time for the rest of us. ;)


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