Alaska boasts some of the best heli-ski operators in the world
The terrain available to heli- and cat-skiing in Alaska literally exceeds millions of acres of ramps, chutes, spines and open powder fields that often extend for thousands of vertical feet. So with all of these options, where do you go?
The following breakdown outlines several of the heli-ski operations near Valdez offering a range of services from all-inclusive lodges to day-trip options.
Alaska Rendezvous Heli-Ski Guides
The Rendezvous lodge is 45 miles north of Valdez in the “Blue Hole,” where orographic conditions allow for more skiable days and produce the best powder in the region. In continuing with the legacy of Theo Meiners, the staff at the Rendezvous will keep on doing what they know. Two A-Star B2 helicopters are staged on-site for easy access to three distinct zones covering more than 3,500 square miles of skiable terrain.
The Alaska Rendezvous Bar and Tavern, is a full-service restaurant with a recently expanded dining area with handmade furniture set amid a spacious and naturally lit mountain atmosphere. The diverse menu offers steaks and sushi, and the local favorite for breakfast is Theo’s Omelet, consisting of ham, peppers and cheese.
The season runs through April. A typical day consists of six epic runs of up to 4,000 vertical feet each. Call for weekly rates and local discounts. Weekly packages include about 36 runs, lodging, daily breakfast, and transportation to and from Valdez.(907-822-3300, ARLinc.com)
Black Ops Valdez
This new operation features a team of veteran Valdez heli-ski guides with years of local guiding experience. Black Ops provides the true Alaska Heli Skiing Experience. Their program is based on Hobbs time, where you pay by the heli-hour. This allows your guide the leeway to visit different areas, getting you to the runs that you want to ski. Last year they were getting about six to seven runs per heli-hour.
Black Ops offers daily trips, as well as all-inclusive weekly packages. Their deluxe accommodations are based at the Robe Lake Lodge, a full-service facility with a hot tub, sauna, high-speed Internet, satellite TV and panoramic views.
H2O Heli Guides
Legendary operator and big-mountain skier Dean Cummings and his team will make sure your heli-ski trip is the adventure of a lifetime. With 20 years of guiding experience, they have permitted more terrain than anyone else in the region and will get you to the goods. With more than 2.6 million acres of terrain, they have access to various terrain types from extreme steeps to long powder runs. And new this year, they will be offering cat skiing as well.
The H2O headquarters are in Valdez. On a typical fly-day, H2O will guide four groups, with the first group flying out of the airport in Valdez to a staging area. Functioning as a remote operator with several different zones, H2O is able to select terrain based on daily weather conditions and snow quality. A typical day consists of six to eight runs, and amounts to about 22,000 vertical feet of skiing. However, they don’t sell vertical, they provide quality ski runs and an exciting experience. Their season runs March through April. Call for local Alaskan rates.
(907-835-8418, Alaskahelicopterskiing.com; also check out H2OG.com for Alaska skis and packs)
Valdez Heli-Ski Guides, Tsaina Lodge
Located 40 miles from Valdez on Thompson Pass, the newly rebuilt Tsaina Lodge offers world-class amenities with its modern look, yet still retains some of the history of its storied past. The epicenter of the big-mountain skiing movement of the ’90s, the original lodge was host to a multitude of extreme-ski pioneers. The lodge was rebuilt in the fall of 2011, complete with a replica of the original Tsaina Bar.
With more than 2,500 square miles of skiing terrain in their back yard alone, and typical runs of 3,000 to 5,000 vertical feet, Valdez Heli-Ski Guides will get you to the ski runs that dreams are made of. They offer daily trips, as well as weekly packages that include skiing and lodging.
If you don’t plan to head to Valdez this winter, but still want to do some heli-skiing, there are, of course, other options. Here’s a few well worth highlighting, from around the state, both near and far.
Chugach Powder Guides (CPG)
With 750,000 acres of dedicated heli-ski terrain and a close proximity to Anchorage, CPG is an easy choice for a quick outing. And if the weather doesn’t fully cooperate, they have a Bombardier Snow-cat with a kicking stereo system that accesses 2,500 acres of killer tree skiing just north of Girdwood. And if that’s not an option, their proximity to Alyeska Resort will ensure the drive wasn’t a waste.
CPG now operates four Eurocopter A-Star helicopters, keeping all of their clients in the field on a fly day. New this year, they will be booking exploratory trips to new terrain from Girdwood to Knik. So if you feel like an adventure, this may be what you’re looking for. Also this year, they will be catering to specialty groups such as their “AK for WMN camp,” a big-mountain environment ski camp aimed to increase skier confidence.
CPG is also booking its one-week skiing adventure near Seward for next year, with accommodations provided at the Seward Exit Glacier Lodge. The season for CPG starts around mid-February through April. And again this year, CPG will be providing Mamut Rocker RAS avalanche airbag systems at no charge for all heli-ski clients. (907-783-4354, Chugachpowderguides.com)
New this year, and located north of Sutton at the Majestic Valley Lodge, Majestic Heli Ski will have access to expansive terrain for all skier abilities. They are in the mountains between Palmer and Glennallen. Anyone who has ever driven this stretch of road has a good idea of the vastness of this terrain.
They specialize in weeklong all-inclusive packages with unlimited vertical. Expect to ski about 100,000 vertical feet during your stay. The full-service lodge is on site, and will ensure that your stay will be comfortable, with a private chef who prepares Alaska seafood and steaks to your liking. Majestic also will be running a snow cat on Sheep Mountain for no fly days. Their season runs from late February to late April. (800-559-8691, 970-315-0584, majesticheliski.com)
Points North Heli-Adventures, Inc.
With 250 square miles of exclusive terrain for ski touring, and 2,000 square miles of total terrain, Points North has access to enough skiing and riding for 10 lifetimes. A family-owned business, and in their 17th year, Points North is the only operation that serves the eastern side of the Chugach Mountains. And as a testament to their operations protocols, Kevin Quinn was elected president of Heli-ski US. Additionally, this season for the 13th year, Points North will be hosting Warren Miller Entertainment.
Walk out of bed and into the helicopter from your room at the Orca Adventure Lodge. Located 2.5 miles from Cordova, the full-service lodge has amenities that include fine cuisine, wireless Internet, sauna and massage. Local flavor in Cordova includes the Reluctant Fisherman, Powderhouse and The Alaskan Bar and Restaurant, to name a few. At Points North, they prefer to call down days, “activity days,” as they have a cross-fit facility and provide field- training sessions. Additionally, Mount Eyak is nearby, and has one lift with 1,000 vertical feet of lift-accessed terrain.
The heli-ski operation runs from the middle of February through April. Their weeklong packages include lodging, meals and ground transportation around town. Expect about four heli-hours of riding with no run or vertical limit (three big days of eight to 12 runs per day). They also they have a ski plane drop-off touring option, which includes meals cooked at the base camp. However, due to its popularity, it is sold out for this season and there are only a few weeks left for next year. So if that is something you want to do, you better book now for next year. Call for local Alaskan rates and details. (907-424-7991, alaskaheliski.com)
Alaska Heli Skiing
With an operations base 33 miles from the town of Haines in the Chilkat Range, Alaska Heli Skiing is the oldest-running heli-ski operation in Southeast Alaska. They have unlimited options for all riding abilities. They also have a guide-training program – if you think you have what it takes to be a heli-guide, this is the place to train.
Alaska Heli Skiing offers some of the more affordable skiing and riding no-frills packages in Alaska. They offer a local Alaskan discount of 10 percent to 20 percent depending on availability, so call for details. Packages include options for lodging at the base location, or in town if you are looking for more dining and nightlife. Their Ski Bum package gets five days at the cabins, at their operations base, and includes 18 runs. More accommodating options are available, such as the deluxe package, which includes transportation and supreme lodging with a private chef. (907-767-5745, Alaskaheliskiing.com)
Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA)
With their facilities in Haines, SEABA has played host to a large number of snowboarding and skiing media-production companies over the years. But don’t let all of the big lines and pro riders make you nervous, this outfit offers skiing and riding for all abilities and preferences. With nearly 1,200 square miles of terrain from which to choose, SEABA will put you on the runs you want to ski. They generally utilize three or four helicopter-base areas that are about 14 to 16 miles apart, giving them plenty of options to find weather windows.
In addition to heli-skiing, SEABA offers cat-skiing, sled-skiing, and plane-skiing. When the weather doesn’t allow you to take to the air, there is killer tree skiing accessible by cat or sled. There are various packages for multiple days of skiing and riding. A one-day trip consists of about seven to eight classic runs, or 22,000 to 25,000 vertical feet, with some single descents of up to 6,000 vertical feet. SEABA generally runs five to six groups on its public chopper, but due to the run density in the area surrounding Haines, you won’t be standing around unless you forget your boots at home. Ask about the special Alaska and Yukon rates.
Tordrillo Mountain Lodge (TML)
Currently the most remote heli-skiing operation in Alaska, TML is 80 miles west of Anchorage on Judd Lake, in the heart of the Alaska Range. The campus consists of two main lodges that accommodate up to eight and 12 guests respectively, with each facility offering a completely separate experience.
In addition to the 1.2 million acres of terrain accessed in the East and West Tordrillos, TML will continue exploring the Neacola Mountains, from which images of last year’s skiing have emerged, and can be seen in the Shooting Gallery of the current issue of Powder Magazine. All of this terrain access is achieved through the use of two A-Star helicopters, and a Havilland DH-2 Beaver ski plane. The Beaver provides passenger transportation and fueling capabilities, allowing greater access to premium skiing.
Packages are all-inclusive. On-site amenities include five-star dining, 20 kilometers of groomed cross-country skiing trails, snowmachine tours, ice fishing, target shooting, massage therapy, yoga, exercise equipment, wine selection, wireless Internet, wood-fired hot tub, and sauna. The season runs from early February to the end of April, with summer Cast and Carve Sessions starting in June and running to July 5. (907-569-5588, tordrillomountainlodge.com)