It starts off easy enough; we are "one drops" off of the Valdez Heli Ski Guides operation. An operation that I will characterize as efficient and unpleasant. Mostly I experienced a bunch of people taking themselves waaay to seriously and an assembly line approach to skiing that I don't care for. In all fairness it doesn't help that I, in the first place, have an uneasy time embracing choppers in the back-country. Having said that the general ambiance at the Tsina lodge and the heli operation does not help. In any case, there is no arguing that the terrain configuration off of Richardson HWY on or about Thompson Pass is such that it does lend itself to this type of transportation or the approaches are going to be fairly time consuming. The main claim to fame that Valdez Heli skiing has today is that it once, a long time ago, was pioneered by Doug Coombs. Now he pioneered something a lot larger than just Valdez Heli, he pioneered heli skiing in Valdez! He was a towering figure of back-country skiing with remarkable stints in Jackson Hole, Valdez and La Grave, France. He met an untimely end looking to assist a friend down an icy Couloir de Polichinelle at La Grave where he lost his edge and fell 2000 feet down. A truly tragic end for definitely one of the absolutely best skiers that ever lived.
Every day starts at the helipad for a drop of somewhere we like and that the conditions allow (click to enlarge any of the pictures).
|Valdez Heli Ski Guides - The heli pad.|
...we get pretty intimate with these birds...
...and the reward is that you get to places like this:
|In the Iguana Backs|
...and the drop zone is not too bad either:
|A cosy mountain corner|
Now finally after all that travelling, the transiting and prepping we finally GET TO SKI!
|In the slope: Mike in blue, me in orange |
and Ray with his ski tips still up
|...and there's yet a long way to go...|
|...reaching for the island of safety...|
|...and reaching for the island...|
|Alaska is huge so one slope each., one to the left..|
|The other to the right...|
|...and that's a wrap!|
After a good ski never neglect the reward upon the reward:
|Mike, Adam and Pierre in the art of eating the cake and having it left...|