Roadtripping for powder
Vail, CO Colorado
The face of the mountain was so steep, I couldn’t see over it. As I stood on top of the ridge, I listened to my guide tell me, via radio, how much sluff was moving down the face of the steep mountain, where the bergschrunds (cracks in the snow) were and how to avoid the cliffs and crevasses on the way down. I wondered why my kneecap muscles were spasming at the same time. As he radioed for the next rider to drop, I realized my knees were, in fact, shaking with fear.
After 9 hours, and 12 of the steepest, most technical lines of my life, my nerves were shot. It was six days into a springtime trip to Alaska, and I had experienced the biggest adrenaline rush of my 14 years of snowboarding.
In the ski and snowboard world, Alaska is often considered the pinnacle of big-mountain riding and skiing. The sheer size of the mountain, coupled with the quantity and quality of the snow, allows snow enthusiasts to ride steeper terrain than most places in the world, making Alaska a dream snow destination. What makes the dream so often elusive is the fact that while you can go to Alaska and book a week of heli-boarding, you are still not guaranteed even a single day of skiing or snowboarding because of the often-moody weather.
So it was with no expectations, no pre-booked heli time, splitboards in tow and the offer of a borrowed sled once there that I headed to Alaska to celebrate my boyfriend’s 20-year snowboarding anniversary with him and his friend, Colin Murphy.
After landing in Anchorage at 1 a.m. on a Saturday in early April and getting a couple of hours of sleep, we headed to Valdez with the hope of a day of heli snowboarding on Sunday. To our surprise, we arrived to find clear conditions – for the first time in two weeks, no less – and by 2 p.m., we were squeezed into a Rendezvous Heli-Guides helicopter and flying over the majestic Chugach Mountains for what was to be the first five heli runs of the trip.
After spending two days heli snowboarding – 11 runs – with Rendezvous, we spent a day sightseeing around Valdez and a morning with a local snowboard guide who led a Jackson Hole pro skier and his videographer down an incredibly steep, untracked line on Thompson Pass.
Then it was time to jump on a ferry and head to Cordova, a small city near the mouth of the Copper River, with the hope of getting some heli time with the already fully booked Points North Heli Adventures. On the ferry, we watched as whales and dolphins frolicked alongside the boat and we gawked at the incredible mountains shooting straight up. On our first day in Cordova, we played in sea kayaks in the Orca Inlet, watching as bald eagles snacked on small birds and sea otters dove for shellfish.
On our second day in Cordova, we showed up at Points North Heli Adventures at 8 a.m sharp. It was another bluebird day, and as soon as we arrived, PNH owners Kevin and Jessica Quinn had us gearing up and signing waivers for a 9:30 a.m. take off with our enthusiasatic guide for the day, George Willis, and one of the Lodge’s chefs, Jamie Willeford. Willis took us down two mellow runs, to test our ability, and then straight to the steeps, which is when my adrenaline kicked up tenfold. As Murphy told our guide: “I’m not having fun until she’s crying.”
Heliboarding with Rendezvous proved to be the perfect warm-up for Points North Heli Adventures. The first two days of heli snowboarding with Rendezvous were blue and black diamond runs, while our one day with PNH was more like double- and triple-black diamond runs.
After the Points North experience, we were content to end our trip with a mellow day picnicking with locals at Alyeska, Alaska’s largest ski resort. Our new friends even took us on a final splitboard adventure: a three-hour hike followed by a perfect fresh spring powder line.
As quickly as the adventure began, it ended with no regrets – only plans for our next Alaskan adventure.
Turns out the parting advice a good, good friend (and fellow snowboard junky) gave us was spot on: “Bring your credit card and one big, solid board, and all your snowboarding dreams will be fulfilled.”
Dominique Taylor is the photo editor for the Vail Daily. Email comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.