I first heard about the legendary big mountain freeriding and ski scene near Valdez, Alaska after watching a segment from Teton Gravity Research’s 2012 “Dream Factory.”

The beautiful mountains of Alaska
“Dream Factory” tells the story of how bush pilot Chuck McMahan started flying his buddies up into the untouched peaks in his ski-equipped Supercub back in 1987.

Heli skiing the Chugach Mountains had long been a dream of mine, but after watching “Dream Factory” I was especially enchanted with the idea of going to the place where it all began. I wanted to make it to Valdez, where the mountains were endless, the lines big, and the powder deep.

And then, this winter, suddenly the stars aligned. After a week of plotting with a friend, I had a plane ticket in my hands and helicopter time reserved with Alaska Snowboard Guides.

This was it. My heli ski dreams were coming true. Spring 2013 would prove to be the year I would ski the biggest, baddest lines and the deepest powder of my entire life.

 

First Time Heli Jitters

It’s hard to explain the mixture of nerves, anxiety, excitement and adrenaline that’s pumping through your body before you load the helicopter for the first time.

First ride in the helicopter.
While I was practically giddy at the idea of shredding virgin powder on 5,000 foot runs, I also knew the Chugach Range was not a place for the faint of heart. Along with some of the best skiing in the world, there is also considerable danger: avalanches, glacial crevasses, cliffs and more. This place was serious business.

Luckily, my previous backcountry experience and the incredibly knowledgeable guides at Alaska Snowboard Guides made me feel way more at ease. I knew that my safety and a good time were top priorities for the staff at ASG.

 

 Alaska Snowboard Guides base camp.

Heli Skiing and the Post Chugach High

As the helicopter took off and I watched the Alaska Snowboard Guides’ base disappear below me, I was instantly enthralled by the sheer scale and expanse of the Chugach Mountains. Huge, steep peaks packed with powder, and large glacial fields seemed to stretch out endlessly before me.

Valdez
Just as I was taking in the incredible view, the heli steered towards the LZ (Landing Zone in heli speak). As we approached, the pilot lifted the bird over a knife-edge ridge and dropped to the other side, my stomach dropping with it.

He then banked hard, heading back toward a thin crown of granite to what seemed like an impossible landing spot. He set us down on small patch of snow, and we crawled out and crouched in in front of the heli, a cliff just feet behind us.

My guide, Dan Caruso (who I dubbed Valdez’s own International Man of Mystery), fished our gear out of the basket and then the pilot dive-bombed, the heli plummeting out of view.

Views and helicopters.
I was nervous at the top as I looked down the 40-degree pitch and snapped into my ski bindings. But before I knew it, I was slicing wide turns through the deep, perfect powder.  After one marathon run, I knew I was hooked on those mountains and that way of skiing.

Eight long runs, and eight nerve-racking and exciting heli rides later, I found myself back at ASG basecamp with a huge smile plastered to my face. My cheeks hurt from smiling so big. And I knew, deep in my belly, that Alaska had become the place you’ll find me every Spring, money squirreled away throughout the year for helicopter time, for many years to come.

milk_n_honey
goodtimes

powderturns

Have you ever been heliskiing in Alaska? Share your stories in the comments below!

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Sub-Categories North America / Ski / Snowboard / Travel
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  • Devin Overton

    Wow I really like the 1st and 4th photo! They remind me of exactly of the experience I had in Valdez. That must just be because I took both of them…