Have you ever dreamt of skiing in Alaska? Liberty Mountain employee, Marc Maybee illustrates his recent experience heli-skiing there.
Going to Alaska to ski has been a dream of mine ever since I was a little kid. I can remember watching Warren Miller films with my dad while telling him, “I will go there one day.”
Well, this was my year. After about 6-months of planning and countless hours researching locations, booking a helicopter charter, and other logistics, I found myself on a plane headed to Anchorage. From there, my buddies and I had to drive six hours to Valdez. I was just as excited for the drive as I was for the skiing; it was part of the adventure. The drive was perfect, beautiful weather and the scenery was beyond my expectations. I had my nose pressed up against the window until we rolled into Valdez.
After stopping for lunch and taking a few photos, we stopped by Black Ops Valdez to meet their crew, sign away our lives, and do the beacon and safety tests. I had never been so close to helicopters before and my heart raced as I realized what I had gotten myself into. Watching the faces of people getting off the helicopter, I knew we were in for some fun.
Our first day of skiing started at 8:30am. While standing in the landing zone waiting for the helicopter to show, I could feel my heart pounding through my chest. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that much anticipation before. This was my first time in a helicopter and I could not have been more excited. When I looked around at the others in the helicopter they were all staring at me laughing, my eyes must have been popping out of my goggles while my grin reached from ear to ear.
After flying around for 15 minutes, our guide pointed out our first zone where had to land on a 10 foot ridge. To one side was a 500-foot cliff and on the other side was our line. The pilot flew the helicopter in on the cliff side, nosed into the snow, and gave us a look that said, “GET OUT!” Once we gave the signal and the helicopter left, everything became silent. The five of us stood on the peak looking down 3,500 vertical feet to the glacier valley below. It was intimidating to say the least.
Our guide dropped in first while the rest of us stood in silence. 10-15 minutes later, we heard our guide on the radio giving us the beta for the first pitch of our line. I dropped in and was in awe as I skied untracked lines for 3,500 vertical feet. We ended the day with six different runs, all of which were 3,500-4,000 vertical feet each. They were not the steepest or the scariest lines, but it was a good way for us to warm up for what our guide had in store for us for the following day.
After waking up, eating breakfast, and slamming a few cups of coffee we rushed ourselves to the landing zone, ready for the unknown. Up in the air again, our guide pointed out our first line for the day. I knew we were in for it. All we could see were big scary lines with sketchy ridge landings. At times I’d whisper to myself, “Please don’t land there, please don’t land there.” But it never seemed to work.
The last line of day definitely had the pucker factor. We landed on a tiny ridge with a cliff and massive cornice on either side. We had to slide along the cornice—inches away from the cliff while the wind blew us around—to get to a secure spot. Our guide took the first drop and disappeared over the cornice. After a few moments, our guide radioed in and gave us the green light with a warning to be cautious of the sluff.
I was the next to drop in. As soon as I was able to see what was below the cornice, I felt a wave of anxiety and adrenaline. After a few cautious first turns, I felt pretty good and started to open it up. I had a sluff-pile come down behind me and every once in a while it would catch me. That’s when I decided to really open it up to outrun the sluff. At the bottom, our guide greeted me with a high-five and praised me for my “sluff-management” skills.
Our last day of skiing was hindered a bit because of the wind that hit the mountains during the night. We were taken to a new zone that was a little more sheltered and not as steep. Most of the time the ocean was right below us, causing me to daydream while skiing down. The vistas that surrounded us made up for the less-than-par conditions.
I wish we would have had one more day of “good” snow to tackle more of the big lines we anticipated to ski, but in the long run, I don’t think this trip could have gone any better.
I must say that this was definitely a trip of a lifetime!
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