Snow starved? Head to elevation

by • March 8, 2016 • ToastComments (0)134

Ben Napolitano Heli-skier Eric Fullerton descends a fresh powder slope on Feb. 18, after flying out of Palmer for a day of skiing. Ben Napolitano describes the heli-ski moment in this month's issue of Coast magazine.

Ben Napolitano
Heli-skier Eric Fullerton descends a fresh powder slope on Feb. 18, after flying out of Palmer for a day of skiing. Ben Napolitano describes the heli-ski moment in this month’s issue of Coast magazine.

One of the biggest snowfalls I remember fell on Saint Patrick’s Day back when my daughter was still a toddler. It was her birthday, and the record snow falling at the time destroyed our party plans for her since we lived up on Hiland Road where no one could reach us.

At the time it was disappointing, frustrating to be stuck inside when we’d gone to so much trouble to decorate the cake, festoon the house with streamers and make our home a toddler-friendly play zone. Instead, we watched the snow fall and fall, and the South Fork Valley filled to a soft, fluffy plumpness, burying bushes and small trees and soft contours on the mountains.

After awhile, though, we bundled the kids up in snow gear and walked outside. My son, at 4 years old, was buried under all of the snow and I carried Reilly in my arms, because if I set her down, she would have disappeared in the drifts. We sloshed our way through several feet of snow to the dog yard, where the sled dogs excitedly yanked on their chains, fired up by the new snow that spelled fun days of mushing ahead. Roan ran to each house and pet the dogs and they licked him and jumped on him, eager to play.

Thinking about that scene now, so many years and dry winters later, I realize how lucky we were to even have that snow. Sure, it waylaid our party plans, but at the end of the day, my kids were much happier running around in the yard with their dogs, building an approximation of a snowman in the front yard and guzzling down hot chocolate afterward.

Those days seem like a fictional time gone by. For the past several winters, we have been snowless. As I look out the window on an early March afternoon, I see grass poking through the dusting of crusted snow. The wind chimes on the front porch are tinkling in response to the winds, and our driveway is a sea of puddles rippling over a base of ice. This does not feel like Alaska at all.

It remains to be seen if winter will make one last desperate attempt at showing itself this month. If it does, I will remind myself to savor the moment, to enjoy the snow, however fleeting it may be.

And although all the snow is gone here down at sea level? You can always head to higher ground. Up in the backcountry of Alaska’s most remote and pristine peaks are infinite slopes waiting for the touch of a snowboard or ski. These jaw-dropping locations are helicopter accessible, and Ben Napolitano, a former heli-guide and avid heli-ski addict in Girdwood, shares what it is like – that awe-inspiring moment – when you hit the LZ and go for broke. Heli-skiing is not a sport for the faint of heart, but it’s also not out of the question, either. Get your ski legs strong and start making some heli-ski connections (we offer some suggestions on Page 17), because now is definitely the time for this oh-so-Alaskan sport.

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