The highs and lows of heli skiing in Alaska

Nat Segal about to drop in!

The ups and downs of Alaska might leave you feeling like you’ve been on a mountain sized roller coaster ride. But, if you revel in a little bit of risk taking and adrenaline, ink in ‘heli-skiing in Alaska’ at the top of your bucket list.

Before I made the pilgrimage to Points North Heli, based in Alaska’s Chugach ranges, I thought I was prepared to take on this so called rollercoaster ride. I had heard of people having the best day of their lives in those mountains ,and of others whom had spent weeks on the ground, driven up the wall by cabin fever.

Heli-skiing in Alaska is a fantasy trip for many ski and snowboard aficionados worldwide, and there is good reason for this. Nowhere else on the planet do you get such consistent snow sticking to steep, open faces. Alaska had been on my mind since I began watching ski films in my mid teens. I didn’t know when I would go, or how I would afford it, but I knew I had to make it happen.

Due to their geography, the coastal ranges in Alaska, such as the Chugach, often provide a stable coastal snowpack. The high moistures content in the snow, wind currents and shape of the terrain also allows for the elusive ‘spine walls’ to form, providing challenge to even the most seasoned pro.

 

However, it’s not just the physical adrenaline rush that you’re signing up for. It’s extreme weather, extreme people, extreme highs and extreme lows. You can’t have one without the other in Alaska. You take risks on many levels and when you book that ticket, wire through that deposit, you have to do so with an open mind, knowing that nothing is guaranteed.

Last season my sister Nat and I pulled the trigger. We decided that Points North Heli would be the apex of our film about fear, where we would test our mettle, our fitness and our skiing prowess. We were putting even more on the line than the average client; we were there to film, which meant hunting for good light, good snow and that little something extra- magical Alaskan moments that we could convey to an audience.

As our April neared we had heard rumours that Alaska was experiencing a less than stellar snow year. Word on the street was that wind events had blown away much of the snow and many of the classic lines were out of condition (not skiable). But our flights were booked, our money was down and the Alaskan segment of our film was hard set in our story line.

We were not the only ones who hav found ourselves in this situation. Heli-skiing in Alaska is elusive and sometimes it takes years to strike gold. While this part of the ride may be intimidating, there are ways around that can take off the edge, letting  you enjoy your trip without so many bumps.

  1. Purchase good travel insurance that covers both heli-skiing and trip cancellation. This means that if you don’t fly you can claim the money lost to either re-invest for next year’s trip or to spend elsewhere.
  2. Make sure you arrive in Alaska with your eyes wide open. Be prepared for down days and don’t assume you are going to strike gold on your first try. Bring books, a journal and cards. Enjoy the down time to rest and relax and enjoy what Alaska has to offer.
  3. Be prepared to send at any moment. The trick while waiting for your heli days is to not get too relaxed. As the mountains are coastal, the weather is fickle and can flip unexpectedly. While you should enjoy yourself, make sure you stay active. Stretch, go for walks and eat healthily, because when the weather turns on, you want your body and mind to be ready. There is nothing worse than having a hangover on the one day of the week that breaks blue!

While heli-skiing in Alaska may not be the easiest ski trip to plan, it is well worth the risk. I may have ticked it off my bucket list once, but I have already started plotting ways to make it happen again.

SHARE
Aussie, Olympic slopestyle skier, FIS World Champion and now big mountain skier. Anna Segal is Melbourne bred and Whistler based. Currently co-producing Finding The Line ski documentary with her sister Nat Segal who also writes for SnowsBest.

Share your thoughts