Alaskan mountain peaks favor those heliboarding enthusiasts, who prefer precision and clarity. In opposition to Kamchatka operators, in the coldest state of the USA precision prevails and flight schedules are strictly observed. The last word, however, belongs to Mama Nature. During the heliboarding season - March and April - temperatures rarely fall bellow -30ºC, usually staying around 5 to 10 degrees above zero.
Such a trip to another side of the world strips off some 4000 USD from your bank account. Yet, travel agencies' offer even more expensive packages - up to 7000 USD. Respectively, it is advisable to make ones own arrangements - to reserve hotels and book flights. There are at least three tour operators, covering Alaska, one of them being Alaska Backcountry Adventures.
At the end of the route Amsterdam - Chicago - Anchorage (another starting-point is Warsaw) heliboarding enthusiasts awaits a pick up service with big GMC Yukon jeeps. Such a vehicle can fit six people and all the gear too. Five hours through the snowy landscape and Valdez, with population of slightly over 4 thousand, unfolds before travelers eyes. Except a plenty of McDonald's style eating places, practically no other tourist attractions are available there. Even a 3 star place like Aspen Hotel Valdez does not spare donuts with castor sugar, muffins and buns in their menu. (although breakfast is very good there). A selective approach to a typically American food might spare you from gaining additional kilograms in just few days. There are, however, healthy food restaurants in Valdez too, with a dinner for one costing about 15 - 20 USD.
Aspen Hotel Valdez
Address: 100 Meals Avenue, Valdez, AK 99686
In Alaska, unlike in Kamchatka, you will not find hundreds of volcanoes and choice of suitable slopes is limited too. On the other hand, the security of powder-snow lovers here is the first priority. Two hours of instruction is serious business indeed. Acquiring usage of an avalanche beacon - a most trustworthy companion for such a trip - involves practical drills as well, and finding of a little beeping thing in the snow is just a part of it. Using special probes, one has to safety check the snow in a particular place and dig out a beacon (representing a missing person in this case).
Helicopters are just about 30 meters from a container type hangar, serving at the same time as an instruction and a waiting room. A helicopter, apart from an instructor and a pilot, can take aboard 3 to 5 people, attending several groups simultaneously. Due to the tight schedule people should be grouped according to their proficiency, avoiding delays caused by less experienced heliboarders. They, who have successfully reached the bottom, sometimes have to wait for about 20 - 30 minutes to be taken to the next peak again.
A following day's schedule is hard to foresee - a fog and clouds may clear only in the afternoon and everybody must be ready for the flight then. Moreover, hanging around and hoping for weather improvement may take from a couple of hours up to several days.
There exists a common misconception about reckless jumping out of a helicopter from several meters height. Actually, a helicopter hangs in the air, just touching the snowy surface with its front wheel. Each group is led by an instructor or so called lavinschik - a professional, who evaluates the quality of powdery snow, eventual avalanche threat and determines, is it safe to proceed or not. Then - keeping a distance of 200 to 400 meters - soft snow of the slope can try out all the others. A leader of the group always goes last. A communication among group members is provided via individual portable radios.
For safety reasons, Alaskan operators try to limit the length of descends and on very rare occasions a group gets the green light from their instructor to leave him behind or to take a sharper turn. Unforeseen circumstances, like frozen snow crust (10-15 cm thick), suddenly cracking in the length of several meters, can turn out to be quite dangerous. A careless maneuver can end up with a painful crash against the sharp ice or ploughing snow with ones nose. Instructors in Kamchatka just shake their heads for unauthorized speeding down the slopes, while in Alaska such behavior can put an end to your heliboarding adventure. It takes much imploring before a daredevil is allowed to proceed.
Occasionally, even the pilots, most of them former militaries, have an itch for nerve tickling adventures. On the way to the next peak, a Vietnam War veteran demonstrates the so called fun ride. Flying towards a mountain, only at the very last moment he pulls his aircraft vertically up. Just passing a snowy peak, he goes rapidly down again, while passengers' screams bring a little impish smile in the otherwise sharp-cut soldier's face. Then again, a helicopter flies low, almost stroking a white powdery surface.
In case of un-flyable weather, a book or a pack of cards may fill ones time, as well as sliding from some lower slopes. Then, everybody gets in cars, goes up along some well trodden path and sweeps down on their boards again, with exception of a driver, of course...
Snowmobiles, too, are a popular pastime here, at the same time being the most common way of transportation in Valdez. In the neighboring Canada, heliboarders, squeezed between guides, in three hours cover just about 8 miles, with a speed just up to 60 km per hour. Whereas Alaskan operators - majority of them former sportsmen - have allotted to extreme sports a whole canyon. With a child-like joy, three hours at a stretch, motoring professionals demonstrate their reckless tricks. According to one of the guides, a distance to some nearest cave can be covered in 45 minutes, there and back. A group of most agile drivers, however, knock at the cave's entrance after just ten minutes...
- Heliboarding season in Alaska is March to April;
- One can complete about 4 to 7 descends par day;
- All trip arrangements should be done in good time, even a year before is not too early;
- Alaska heliboarding operators offer guarantied hours - non-used time (due to bad weather conditions) accumulates for the next year;
- Heliboarding requires training and reasonable physical fitness. One or two snowboarding seasons are enough to conquer the Alaskan peaks too. Skiing, however, is physically more demanding. Heli-skiing without several years of prior skiing experience might be dangerous;
- Required gear for descends - a beacon, a probe, a harness (in case of emergency to hook on), a special backpack equipped with a breathing tube (if you are buried under the snow, the tube and one way valve allows you to vent CO2-rich breath out the back, thus preventing from asphyxiation; this device should give additional time up to one hour, while without it one can survive not more then 10 - 15 mints), extra gloves, socks, goggles, etc.
- It is advisable to procure the required inventory beforehand, as its hiring on the spot might be even thrice expensive then at the store Motosports, Dzelzavas Str. 51/A, Riga, Phone: +371 67802350; +371 67802351.
- No special medical service at the heliboarding camp is available - each guide
carries first aid kit and rescue equipment;
- It is critical to always listen and obey directions of the guide;
- Only 4 to 5 days from 10 usually are suitable for descends. Weather conditions are unpredictable - it may as well happen that flyable is just one day.
Posted in 2008.Share it:
Keywords: Alaska, heliboarding
I live in Alaska
First, Get your supplies and equipment in Anchorage at one of the Many Excellent stores such as REI or Alaksa Trail Outfitters. Second.. Bring food from Anchorage if you plan on staying more than a couple of Days in Valdez.. The Best Heliboarding and HeliSkiing is in Haines, a small village about 670 km from Anchorage and available via Juneau.
Once you commit to Heliboarding, plan on the most dramatic experience of your skiing/boarding carreer.... The mountains are unpredictable, Many of chutes end in flying experiences of more than 50 meters. Kawabunga!!!!!