Most girls do not dream of being an airplane mechanic when they grow up. But my childhood wasn’t that typical anyway. Raised in Colorado with a father whose hobby was flying small airplanes put a spark in my eye from the age of three. Family vacations, visits to relatives in the Midwest, birthday flights with my friends and Saturday cruises over to Moab for breakfast were adventures I loved. Which is why, nine years after I got my pilot’s license and only five months after passing my Airframe and Powerplant exams making me a certified airplane and helicopter mechanic, I found myself in Haines, Alaska – Mecca to backcountry flying.
Haines is not only famous for it’s world-class flight-seeing around Glacier Bay National Park, it is also home to two heli-ski companies and ski-plane operator Fly Drake.
If I’m not fixing or flying airplanes, I’m dreaming about skiing. This is where Drake comes in. Eighteen years ago, pilot Drake Olson moved from his hangar in Rifle, Colorado to the mountains surrounding the Lynn Canal, the doorstep to Glacier Bay. An avid skier himself, Drake self-taught himself to land his Cessna 180 with skis on these glacier tops. The idea has caught on and now groups from all over the world are coming to experience Alaska’s epic snow and steep lines via glacier camping and human powered skinning. I scored a job working in his hangar this winter–keeping the planes clean and running, answering phones, scheduling flights and drop-offs, and doing my best to keep this one-man show on the fly.
The first time Drake landed us on a glacier my heart swelled so big in my chest I thought it would pop. It was the same feeling I had catching my first wave in the surf off of Costa Rica: pure ecstasy. I already had my ski boots on, so while I waited for Drake to catch up I soaked in the views. Three hundred and sixty degrees of the most beautiful peaks I had ever seen, all glistening in a blanket of pure white. We were alone for as far as the eye could see. It would take over a day to navigate the glaciers and valleys to the sea, and yet we were a mere twelve minute flight from town. We started hiking and the next thing I knew the airplane was a small blue speck far below. We had to get back for work and settled on a longer skin followed by luscious turns over terrain that only God could create. I knew then there is something special about this place and I was forever changed.