Posts Tagged ‘heliskiing’
I tagged along today as the H2o Guides staff ventured out to practice crevasse rescue. The magnificent Valdez Glacier is on the outskirts of town, just past the airport. In true AK style, we got on our skis and were towed up behind snowmobiles to the practice site. We traveled over a frozen lake to a big iceberg that had a nice vertical wall. Glaciers are alive so the feature we played on today may not be here next season or it may just relocate to another part of the lake. Once the main route miners took inland during the great Gold Rush of the late 1800s, these days this area is a snowmobilers playground. In the summer, local outfitters guide people to this same spot . . . by boat.
While the guides worked to dig in anchors, prep their lips and set up their mechanical advantages, I took photos. It was a bluebird day at the glacier and bonus: uncharacteristically wind-free. Setting up for a crevasse rescue is tedious business. I got bored and happily volunteered to be the “victim” and get hoisted up the iceberg face. I walked to the base of the ice face with Chris who made sure I got my crampons on, rigged up and a gave me a few pointers about being rescued, namely, help if you can.
I had fun front-pointing on the ice as Mike single-handedly hoisted me up the ice face using a 6:1 mechanical advantage. Cool! Thinking that was fun I volunteered to be a victim again. This time, I was asked to act unconscious. The iceberg wall here was slightly overhanging so I couldn’t front point and walk up the face anyway so “acting” unconscious was easy. I was going to just dangle. After being hoisted a couple dozen feet off the ground my progress stalled. I took pictures of the surrounding scenery. I took pictures of myself. I could eavesdrop on the conversation a couple hundred yards away where Dean was leading the beacon search practice. I was getting dripped on by melting ice from the overhanging wall. I thought about Chinese water torture. It made me remember why ice climbing never held that much appeal. I tucked my camera away to keep it safe from the drips. Clouds started rolling in. I dangled on.
Suspended animation continued. I was tried spinning around for a different view. I saw Dean look my way then get on his snow machine to come see what was up. After checking out the scene, he yelled down to me what was already pretty obvious, the rope was fouled. So basically, what started as a practice session had turned pretty real. I dangled a while longer. Once the rope situation was finally straightened out, the guys made short work of hoisting me the rest of the way up the ice face.
They thanked me for being a good victim. I’m thinking someone owes me a beer.
If you’re a mountain girl, there’s no place like Valdez. I love the ocean but I realized a few years ago I’m ok to just visit the ocean. I need my ocean fixes for sure and my body sends strong signals when I’m overdue but once I sail or dive I’m ok to leave until the next time the urge strikes. But I need and must have mountains. When I come home from the ocean, my soul my bones my muscles and my eyes relax because I am home.
The mountains here are big and plentiful. A couple of days ago, I got my first glimpse of the glaciated terrain that is a hallmark of this area and it took my breath away. So the first thing I thought of was how to share this amazing place with some of my mountain-loving industry friends. Working with my newest mountain mama girlfriend, Karen Cummings, who co-owns the premier heli-ski company in Alaska with her husband, Dean, and with Dean’s full support, we crafted a special package for our industry girlfriends to come join me in Valdez in what looks like it will be the deepest snow year on record for a trip-of-a-lifetime Alaska adventure.
Note, you fly in the first day of the trip. Most airline schedules from major airports around the country can get you to Anchorage by 3 p.m. in time to catch the last flight of the day to Valdez on Grant Air or Era Aviation. The same is true in reverse for your departure. The last day of the trip you’ll get on the last plane from Valdez (VDZ) to Anchorage (ANC) and catch a red-eye back home. If you have any questions or concerns you can ask them in the comment stream or call me at 303.898.4141. If you ever dreamed of coming to Alaska let alone heli skiing in Alaska, there really is no better time to do so than this spring through this program. The snow is deep, the prices are as low as we can go and you’ll go home a better skier, a more accomplished backcountry traveler, and winter sports enthusiast. Hope to see you here in April!
This marks the start of the chronicles of my first adventure in Alaska with my client Dean Cummings’ H2o Guides. I had just barely started to scratch the surface of all the amazing in-bounds, side- and backcountry terrain in Revelstoke and then opportunity knocked and poof, gone! So from a 24-hour drive north of Salida, Colorado I’ve landed norther of Colorado. The goal of AK Ingenue is to share with you what I expect to be an amazing introduction to living, working and playing Alaska-style. Watch my Facebook page to find out about the next installments where you’ll join me for the full gamut of winter fun including all kinds of skiing, snow machining, ice-climbing, some insider glimpses of the heliski biz and more.
It’s been a week since I touched down in Valdez thanks to the unflappable piloting skills at Grant Aviation. The day after I landed was a momentous occasion, the official opening day of Salmonberry Ski Hill. I sprang for the $10 season pass and joined Dean’s wife Karen, and kids Wyatt and Tesslina – in breaking in the new rope tow. It’s actually a kind of re-opening since there was a ski hill in the same location in the late ’80’s that’s been dormant until Karen rallied local civic leaders to bring the hill back to life. The four-minute rope tow takes folks 1100 feet to the top of a rolling hill. While Wyatt and Tess did a lap, Karen led me off-piste for a couple fresh turns – literally – a couple.
The next day, I needed to get to town for some shopping – it’s just a 20 minute walk but – but Dean offered to give me a ride. In case you haven’t heard, while many ski areas in the Lower 48 were languishing in drought, Valdez was getting hammered. There’s just under 40 feet of snow in town, about a 100 foot base in the
mountains. Fun to play in, deep snow creates havoc on buildings and roads and big equipment to move it all is a pretty common sight around town so it was little surprise that my commuter vehicle was big and yellow. This past week has been all work work work. So I joined the gym to keep in shape in between ski excursions. Prince William Sound Community College has a public fitness center where you can “rent” nordic ski gear and snowshoes for free which came in handy when I joined Karen and her friend Jen on a quick snowshoe jaunt at Dock Point.
All work and no play, at least no real ski play, was starting to make me and the H2o crew a bit twitchy so when Dean gave the guys – Ryan, Chad, Paul, Elliot and Max – the day off, we all hopped in a van and headed up to Thompson Pass. Quite the views on the way up and we saw two moose (meese?). The ice in Keystone canyon is amazing.
It was a first in many ways today. Just before leaving Revy, I had transferred my Dynafit bindings from my retired Sugar Daddys to my new sweet, fat H2o Outdoor Gear Kodiak 162’s (120 under foot). Today was their first test drive. I was also test driving new skin technology from Gecko. The skis are amazing and the Gecko’s worked just fine. I’m still dialing in my Scarpa Gea’s which I love because they’re so light and comfy and easy to get in/out of but they’re just a wee bit big for me and it became really clear today I still need to work to fill up some volume and get rid of slop.
Couple o’ quick takeaways from today:
Scale is out of whack here: The terrain is bigger than it looks; it’s colder than it seems.
You can gain an astounding amount of vert in just three hours of skinning.
I need to work toward a bit more graceful steep uphill skin track kick turn.
I can’t wait to go again. It’s dumping right now and expected to do so for the next couple days and taper off by the end of the week.
Sorry about the background noise in the video below. It was a little windy on the saddle.