Wrapping up my 13th heli-ski season guiding in Alaska gives me time to reflect and appreciate the amazing experiences we offer through Triple Point Expeditions. It is truly one of my favorite destinations and one that I plan my entire year around. I hope you enjoy this quick write-up, gear recommendations and photo compilation from my annual pilgrimage North.
Alaska is the ultimate ski destination on all fronts. The coastal mountains wait patiently on the doorstep to the Gulf of Alaska. Trickling down from the towering peaks the gulf extends out to the Pacific Ocean’s never ending weather engine sending storms racing across from Japan and Russia. The mountains’ proximity to the Pacific and the sheer magnitude of the ranges that stand against the onslaught of weather allow us, as skiers and riders, to explore our personal snow centric dreams. Alaska’s vastness, beauty and solitude are unrivaled.
The season started with a major wind event across the entire state followed by unseasonably cold temps and sunny skies. Finding good snow was tricky at this point but we were able to sniff out some great runs and the clear skies allowed us to hunt for snow in the helicopter.
It’s a strange feeling hoping for snow in Alaska as usually you want the weather to go away. But eventually the snow dances worked, the skies clouded over and it puked silver dollars for days. Inevitably though, after a couple days of snow, the emotions swing the other direction and you start hoping for sunny skies. Once they did, it was game on for the rest of the season.
Early April happened to be the transition time this year when it went from good to great. I was lucky enough to bounce around the state and the pictures reflect the varied terrain, destinations and conditions I found along the way.
Every winter I try to look back and dissect a few lessons from my travels. Here’s a couple that come to mind in no particular order:
Gear I Am Stoked On
I’ve learned over the years that if you are prepared and ready for Alaska, she always comes right. Ferocious weather can torment you, avalanche danger can keep you away from the slopes you want to ski, temps can spike or winds can degregate the snow into un-skiable hardpack. In order to make the most of every situation, you have to have the right gear. Here’s what I liked using for the 2017 season:
LowePro — Whistler BP 450 AW — It’s important to have gear where you need it and when you need it. I trust the Whistler pack to protect all my camera equipment in the harshest environments. I appreciate the back zipper opening to access my bodies and lenses quickly. There are also a number of external straps and lash points that allow for attaching tripods, skis or whatever else I may need.
Outdoor Research White Room Pants— I liked using these pants for a few simple reasons. The pockets are well placed and the zippers are super strong. They fit well for ease of movement even when worn under a harness. I found the 3 layer gore-tex to be breathable, durable and comfortable. The pants are well thought out with hefty belt loops, a custom pocket for your beacon and perfect snow gaiters to help keep your boots dry.
K2 Pinnacle 118 - These skis are stable at high speeds coming down Alaska’s steep faces. They have great float in the powder, they’re nimble when you need them to be and they got us through the wind event when there wasn’t much powder to be found. The Pinnacle is an excellent all around ski for AK.
Oakley Airbrake Prizm — “If you can see it you can ski it”. These goggles are well made and super comfortable. Most importantly the lenses are some of the best I have ever used. When it comes to skiing above treeline and navigating consequential terrain you have to be able to see. From blue skies and sunny slopes to north aspects and shaded couliers these lenses bring out the definition, textures and transitions that I need to see in order to do my job.
Outdoor Research Transcendent Jacket — A puffy may be one of my most important pieces of equipment. You know it’s a good one when it never comes off. I’d say this layer of warmth saw the most use this season. From cold morning coffee runs in the pre-dawn dark to long days in the field this jacket came with me everywhere.