Heli and Cat skiing opportunities heat up in February
Nothing beats waking up to a bluebird powder day in Alaska and knowing that you have a seat on the chopper for the day. Within seconds of takeoff from the helipad it is obvious that you are not in Kansas anymore. The many varied terrain features found in Alaska’s mountains include ramps, chutes, spines and open powder fields that run on for thousands of vertical feet. With thousands of mountains and countless vertical opportunities to choose from, the ski experience offered by Alaska heli-ski operators rivals any skiing on the planet.
Alaska is probably the only state in the country with more heli-ski operations than ski resorts. The total area available to heli and cat skiing must be calculated in millions of acres. With all of these available terrain options, one simply needs to choose what region of the state to visit, and the right operator to make your heli dreams come true.
Well here at Coast magazine, we’re going to try and help make your decision of where to fly and who to fly with a little easier. The following breakdown outlines several of the heli-ski operations from around Southcentral Alaska that provide a range of services from all-inclusive lodges to day-trip options.
Alaska Backcountry Adventures
For more than 20 years, Alaska Backcountry Adventures has been guiding skiers and riders in the Thompson Pass area north of Valdez. Their base is conveniently located at the top of the pass next to the Tailgate Alaska headquarters, and new this year, ABA has expanded terrain that offers more riding options during Tailgate.
Many say that renting an RV and camping out in the ABA parking lot is the best way to experience an epic Valdez ski outing. Waiting out the weather isn’t so bad when you are shooting hoops and stoking up the barbecue at camp. Also this year, ABA will offers on-site accommodations. The Hoodoo Cirque Village offers three rustic cabins that can accommodate up to four people each. Other lodging options include staying at one of the many hotels in Valdez like the Mountain Sky Hotel (mountainskyhotel.com).
ABA offers some of the most flexible riding options in Valdez, with single runs for $170, and half days that consist of three runs starting at $500. If you are looking to spend a few days skiing, the 3 out of 5 day flex package is a popular and affordable option ($3,000).
Details: (208) 304-3908 or alaskabackcountry.com
Alaska Heli Skiing
With an operations base located 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. If you can’t picture the terrain in your mind, go check out the latest Teton Gravity Research (TGR) ski flick, which features plenty of footage from Haines.
Alaska Heli Skiing offers some of the more affordable skiing and riding packages in the state. Their daily rates start at $900, with a local Alaskan discount of 10 percent to 20 percent depending on availability. Package options include lodging at the base location or in town if you are looking to follow up a day of skiing with dining and nightlife.
The Ski Bum package provides five days at the cabins located at the operations base, and 18 runs for $3,200. All you need to do is hitchhike there, and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to get a week long “ski vacation” for under $3,500. More accommodating options are available such as the deluxe package, which includes transportation and supreme lodging with a private chef.
Details: (907) 767-5745 or www.alaskaheliskiing.com
Alaska Rendezvous Heli-Ski Guides
The Rendezvous Lodge is located 45 miles north of Valdez in the “Blue Hole,” where conditions allow more skiable days and provide the best snow in the region. Their heli-ski operation has access to three distinct zones covering more than 3,500 square mile of skiable terrain, and more available riding time than other operations in the area.
Two to Three A-Star B2 helicopters are staged on-site for easy access to the high country from the eight-room custom built lodge. The Alaska Rendezvous Bar and Tavern, is a full-service restaurant with a diverse menu that offers American steaks and sushi. A new 400-square-foot addition to the restaurant has given the place an open feeling by allowing more natural light.
Their season starts in March and runs through April. For $900, you get six epic runs of up to 4,000 vertical feet each. Weekly rates start at $6,600 per week, and include 36 runs, lodging, daily breakfast, and transportation to and from Valdez.
Details: (907) 822-3300 or www.arlinc.com.
Chugach Powder Guides
With 750,000 acres of dedicated heli-ski terrain and close proximity to Anchorage, Chugach Powder Guides is an easy choice for a quick escape from the office. If the weather keeps the helos on the ground, CPG has a Bombardier Snowcat with a kicking stereo system that accesses 2,500 acres of killer tree skiing just north of Girdwood. Worst-case scenario: You will be skiing the groomed slopes of Alyeska Resort, which always beats a day at the office.
CPG operates up to three Eurocopter A-Star Helicopters that easily keep all of their clients in the field on a fly day. They also offer a one-week skiing adventure near Seward, with accommodations at the Seward Windsong Lodge. In the summer, their “Kings and Corn” program the lets you angle for kings and carve through high country snow, all in the same day. The program runs through June and is staged out of the Winterlake Lodge located in the Tordrillo Mountains.
CPG starts its season in mid-February. Prices range from $1,175 a day to $9,300 a week, depending on the package. This year, CPG will provide Mammut Rocker RAS avalanche airbag systems at no charge for all of their heli-ski clients.
Details: (907) 783-4354 or www.chugachpowderguides.com
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 19 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 skiing terrain, they have access to various terrain types from extreme steeps to long powder runs.
H2O Guides is headquartered just outside of Valdez. On a typical fly-day, they will guide four groups, with the first group flying out of the airport in Valdez to a staging area. Form there the guides will select the best destination based on client ability, weather conditions and snow quality.
A typical day consists of six to eight runs, and covering 22,000 vertical feet of skiing, though their emphasis is on quality ski runs and an exciting experience. Their season runs from March through April. This year they’re offering an Alaskan local rate of $1,100 per day. Longer trips include a 5 out of 7 day package for $7,402.
Kenai Heli Ski
New this year to Alaska, and located in the Kenai Mountains near Seldovia, Kenai Heli Ski will be pioneering a previously untouched region to heli-skiing. Many of us have stared in awe at the potential ski terrain in the peaks surrounding Kachemak Bay, while fishing for halibut from the water. A visit to this new territory could mean you’ll be bagging first descents on unnamed peaks.
Kenai Heli ski specializes in weeklong all-inclusive packages. The full-service lodge ensures that your stay will be comfortable, with an on-site private chef who prepares Alaska seafood and steaks to your liking. For some local flavor and to get a feel for Seldovia, try the Linwood Bar and Grill, the Tidepool, or the Mad Fish Restaurant.
All-inclusive packages with lodging and meals included range from $7,495 to $8,495 per week. One can expect to ski about 100,000 vertical feet during a weeklong stay. They operate two Bell 407 helicopters, one Bell 212 helicopter, and one MD-530F helicopter, as well as a Bombardier 14 passenger Cat to access 368,950 acres of exclusive terrain. Their season runs from late February to late April.
Details: (800) 559-8691, (970) 315-0584 or Kenaiheliski.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, a member of Heli-ski US, and in their 16th year, Points North is the only operation that serves the eastern side of the Chugach Mountains. And for the 11th year, they 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. On down days, Mount Eyak offers one ski lift and 1,000 vertical feet terrain for less than $20.
The heli-ski operation runs from the middle of February through April. Weeklong packages start at $5,275, and include lodging, meals and ground transportation around town. You can 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 for under $2,150 per week, which includes meals cooked at the base camp. Call for local Alaskan rates and details.
Details: (907) 424-7991 or alaskaheliski.com
Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures
Located in Haines, Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures has regularly hosted snowboarding and skiing media production companies over the years. But don’t let the big lines and pro riders make you nervous, they offer skiing and riding for all abilities and preferences. With approximately 250,000 acres of terrain to choose from and two A-star B2 Helicopters, SEABA will put you on the runs you want to ski. On most ski days the outfit operates three or four helicopter base areas that are about 14 to 16 miles apart, giving them plenty of options for weather and terrain.
A one-day trip consists of seven to eight classic runs, or 22,000 to 25,000 vertical feet at a cost of $1,000. The Bronze package runs $3,800 and includes four days of riding or about 65,000 vertical feet. They generally run five to six groups on their public chopper, but thanks to the many run options in the area surrounding Haines, you won’t be standing around unless you forget your boots at the hotel. Gold packages run a semi-private ship limited to four groups. This allows for roaming to more remote areas along the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve boundary. Ask about their special Alaska and Yukon rates.
Details: (907) 314-0445 or www.seaba-heli.com
Tordrillo Mountain Lodge
Currently the most remote heli-skiing operation in Alaska, Tordrillo Mountain Lodge is located 80 miles west of Anchorage on Judd Lake. Their campus consists of two main lodges that accommodate from eight to 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, they will be exploring a new zone this year in the Northern Neacola Mountains. All of this terrain is accessed with two A-Star helicopters and a Havilland Beaver ski plane. The Beaver provides passenger transportation and high fueling capabilities, allowing greater access to premium skiing. TML guides ski groups to locations more than 40 miles from the lodge, covering an incredible range of terrain.
All-inclusive packages run from $9,000 to $11,500 per week. On-site amenities include five-star dining accommodating any dietary needs, 20 kilometers of groomed cross-country skiing trails, snowmachine tours, ice fishing, target shooting, massage therapy, yoga, exercise equipment, a selection of fine wines, wireless Internet, wood-fired hot tub and a sauna. Their season runs from early February to the end of April, with summer Cast and Carve Sessions, combining sport fishing and skiing, starting in June and running to July 5.
Details: (907) 569-5588 or tordrillomountainlodge.com
Valdez Heli-Ski Guides, Tsaina Lodge
Located 40 miles from Valdez on Thompson Pass, the newly rebuilt Tsaina Lodge, though modern in appearance, still retains the flavor and 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 right in their backyard, 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, and quickly. The season runs from March through April. A five-day heli-ski trip to the lodge costs $6,255 per person, and includes skiing and lodging. One day of skiing starts at $1,000 for six runs. New this summer, they will be running heli-fishing trips throughout July and August.
Details: (907) 835-4528 or www.tsaina.com