Alaska Heli skiing with Warren Miller
April 15th, 2012
I’ve always fancied myself as a good freeskier and would watch ski movies totally respecting what those guys were doing but thinking that it wouldn’t be a hard transition and I would be comfortable doing comparable lines. It turns out there is a lot more then meets the eye. First off every race I do I get to slide down the course and memorize where I’m going. Obviously you cannot do that on these lines, so you look at them from the bottom, disguise the line, take some pictures and then look at the line from the heli and take some more pics. Yet when you stand at the top of the line you can’t see anything, or the ridges are way bigger then you thought or the “small” cliff is actually huge or you can see anything until you 60 meters down the line. Outside just finding the line you thought was good, you have to deal with you sluff (mini avalanche that’s normal on these steep lines) and often times you have to ski though or land off features that have already sluffed off which look fine but it turns out those patches of not so awesome looking powder have 3 foot deep ruts and are hard-ish snow. Once you’ve made it most of the way down your line you then have to deal with the bergschrund (mini crevasse) that can be a gaping hole or a moderate sized drop off depending on the line.
Luckily Phil Meier is here, who’s a veteran Swiss big mountain skier, as well as Marcus Caston; a Shred athlete awesome skier and winner of Rahlves Banzai races but very green in this realm too. Phil knows what he’s doing and has dispersed a plethora of advice and knowledge to both of us along the way. Our guides Lel and Rich with Chugach Powder Guides have been extremely helpful as well. I cannot give enough credit to them for helping gauge the lines, finding the good snow and talk us out of doing stupid lines and into good lines.
The first day here was a real eye opener. First filming run Phil lined up a big spine, 4 turns in a slab broke off starting an avalanche that swept him off his feet and into the chute. He deployed his ABS pack and was right on the surface and fine when he came back into site at the bottom. I was standing 10 meters from the crown at the top and was sufficiently scared. Needless to say that ended our first day.
After watching a seasoned vet like Phil take a real ride, we took it back a few notches and have been easing our way back into some of the bigger lines. I’ve taken a few tumbles each of which has taught me a lesson, so that I’m not totally naive to this scene, yet I’ll still admit I’m very green.