Thursday, April 17, 2008

Guiding Alaska

With the Jackson Hole season wrapped up, Karhu skier Eric Henderson is once again up in Alaska, guiding with Valdez Heli Ski Guides. With good snow and blue skis last week, he sent along a dispatch from several days of guiding and shooting with Tough Guy Productions.

One of the highlights of my job in Alaska is working with professional athletes and delivering the goods to them. Last week I was fortunate enough to be able to work once again with the Tough Guy Production crew and their selected team of athletes.

(All-star line-up in Valdez, AK. Photos courtesy of Eric Henderson)

The weather for the first few weeks of April was milky to say the least. Continued cloud cover, mixed precip and high winds had shut down almost every operator on Thompson Pass. The Tsaina parking lot scene was a well-blended mix of frisbee, early beers, lots of cheese quesadillas and half-crazed heli skiers waiting to see the sun pop. Without fail the first question out of every skier’s mouth was “What’s the forecast?” with the standard refrain of “More of the same.” We have a saying in Valdez, if you want clear skies, then Drink it Blue.

Sure enough the night we decided to close down the Pipeline Bar, the skies cleared and we were flying by 10AM. Load One was Stephane, Kevin and David, with me to guide. Second load was Max, Tyler, JT and Lorenzo. I received both groups on top of Imax, a classic run in the Promise Land with the cameras start rolling. We proceeded to get three more days of flying and skiing, allowing the cameras to capture all of the athletes experiencing some of the Chugach’s magic. This year, unlike others, we combined the one-drop heli touring program with scattered pick-ups throughout the day, allowing us to ski some unlandable peaks and couloirs, then travel a few drainages over and do it again.

(Lorenzo Worster drops in with speed.)

One-drop skiers are groups of four that launch early in the morning before the public skiers, and end up skiing most of the day on their own human power. We land on top of a heli run to start and then proceed to hike and skin for the goods through out the day. The usual day ends up with over 12,000-vertical skied and some tired legs. All groups end by skiing down to the highway for a van pick up. It’s hard to beat a cold beer and a friendly van drive after teeing off in the Chugach for the day.

Working with a crew like this year’s Tough Guy athletes makes my job harder yet extremely satisfying. Having some of the best freeheel skiers in the country as your clients keeps it exciting at all times. I am either opening large slopes for them to ski, setting up for rescue, or standing by as they launch huge air. Not to mention watching some of the most impressive telemark turns on some the country’s biggest freeride lines.

As I have said before, the modern age of freeheel skiing now has a place in the Valdez/Chugach ski culture and should be here till the end.

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