Alaskan Skiing Dreams, Lines, Aircraft and Storms — Haines Report 2

Post by blogger | March 30, 2015      

(Editor’s note: The WildSnow AK crew’s solar electric system is under repair. The crew is working on a fix (Apollo 13!). Blog posts may be delayed. They’ve still got their sat phone and SPOT units functional so they’re safe for emergency comm, but they can’t send more photos or lengthy text at this time. Lou2)

After three days of incredible skiing we’re sitting in our tent, stuck in a storm. As I listen to the beating wind, images from the past days run through my mind.

 Loading up at Costco before the trip. $1400 bucks in the pie hole!

Loading up at Costco before the trip. $1400 bucks in the pie hole!

We arrived in perfect weather. When it’s clear in AK, you go for it! “Ninja-style,” as Drake puts it. We’ve been doing just that, skiing from dawn till dusk, with small amounts of eating and sleeping in between. Not time for much else. Now that we’re storm bound we’ve got nothing but time. If the weather reports are to be believed, we’re in for a five-day storm, at least.

In any case we’ve skied some incredible lines, some of the best turns of our lives.

Drake's plane (53Charlie), on the Tarmac

Drake’s plane (53Charlie), on the Tarmac. Always good to see this ticket to the goods ready to rock.

30 minutes later on the glacier.

30 minutes later on the glacier.

Zach and Jason landed on Monday morning. We immediately headed out on a tour. Being dropped into the middle of these mountains, we had little knowledge of the snowpack or conditions. Our first day, we prioritized snow evaluation and stability assessment. Wanting to get a good idea of all aspects, we toured up to a mellow saddle and split up the group to dig some snowpits. Zach and I dug one on a NE slope, while Coop and Cory dug on either side of the saddle, on E and W slopes, with Jason belaying. Our pits had fairly satisfactory results. We also did some quick ski cuts, with no results.

Snow investigations. Our snow pit was so deep I had to build a stool out of snow blocks to do a column test.

Snow investigations. Our snow pit was so deep I had to build a stool out of snow blocks to do a column test.

With cautious confidence in the stability, we skied down the east slope in search of ski lines. At the bottom we hung out a bit. While we were eating a snack, a heli approached, circled above, and landed nearby. A guy in a guide’s jacket hopped out, and started post-holing towards us. He asked us if we would mind if they filmed some steep spines above us. We didn’t really mind, but our “Alaskan wilderness experience” was shattered. Mark (the guide), also told us that there was going to be lots of heli activity in the area over the next few days, as there were 9 (!) film crews trying to get footage in the area. They should hire us to do their recons.

Although we were a bit bummed, we had known that sharing the terrain with heli-skiers was a possibility. We had chosen our location, at the head of the Riggs Glacier, with a variety of factors in mind. Since it’s been warm in the Glacier Bay area this winter, the high elevation of our camp is important. It’s also a fairly short flight from Haines, and in close proximity to a plethora of incredible ski lines (in particular a big face known as “Tomahawk,” due to the many pro riders who have done just that down the massive face.)

Our camp is inside the the national park, but just barely. Much of the nearby accessible terrain is outside the park, and therefore accessible for heli-access (as far as I understand, anyways). However, we’d been under the impression that they wouldn’t be in the area much, since it’s quite a long flight from the heli-bases. Unfortunately that didn’t seem to be the case.

Although we were a disappointed at having to share our skiing, that wasn’t the biggest issue. Twenty days on an Alaskan glacier is just about the best way to mitigate the “scarcity heuristic.” However, that safety advantage was blown out of the window. We all started to feel the drive to ski some of the bigger, more enticing lines near camp right away. Whoa.

Not bad views out the tent door.

Not bad views out the tent door.

We tempered our enthusiasm, and proceeded to investigate some enticing slopes above us. We split up. Zach and I headed for a short couloir, while Coop, Jason, and Cory headed up an adjacent slope. Zach and I dug a pit we didn’t like, but the other guys found some better stability, and skied a great line in the evening light.

First line of the trip! Not Bad!

First line of the trip! Not too shabby!

We toured back to camp, and we’re excited to take advantage of the stability and good weather and ski some of the other big lines around camp in coming days. As for the heli film crews, we trust they’re having a nice nine days in Haines waiting out the weather. Undoubtedly they’re more comfortable than we are — but we like it here anyway.

The Crew. From L-R, Zach, Jason, Louie, Coop, and Corey.

The Crew. From L-R, Zach, Jason, Louie, Coop, and Corey.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


22 Responses to “Alaskan Skiing Dreams, Lines, Aircraft and Storms — Haines Report 2”

  1. See March 28th, 2015 7:40 pm

    Truly awesome.

    What’s wrong with the solar?

  2. Lou Dawson 2 March 28th, 2015 7:45 pm

    It’s not charging for some reason, probably just a bad connection. They’re working on it with help from supplier. It’s good quality stuff with proven track record so it’s just a glitch. It’ll get fixed I’m pretty sure, but if not that’s the way things go. Main thing is they have their emergent comms if they need them — as well as some way to call Drake for a ride when it’s time to leave (grin)!

  3. See March 28th, 2015 8:17 pm

    Ski now, blog later.

  4. Lou Dawson 2 March 28th, 2015 8:20 pm

    He he. Problem is they’re sitting in a storm, perfect time to fool around with the remote blogging system. But, safety and fun first, for sure. We’re totally ok with how things are going. Lou

  5. See March 28th, 2015 8:34 pm

    No sun?

  6. Lisa Dawson March 28th, 2015 8:59 pm

    See, it was storming hard and they were in a complete whiteout for a while. Luckily the $1400 Costco stash kept them alive.

  7. Lou Dawson 2 March 29th, 2015 4:59 am

    PV charges through clouds, albeit not as much output. Lou

  8. pietro March 29th, 2015 6:24 am

    I Can’t beleive with all the terrain that they have access to, heli skiing operations would poach your area. Shame on those lazy bums!!

  9. MJ Davis March 29th, 2015 2:46 pm

    Hopefully the storm will pass quickly, your communication system will be repaired -or we will gladly read about it later instead of now- and you will be able to resume the outdoor sport part of your adventure! Have fun, be safe.

  10. See March 29th, 2015 3:55 pm

    Wow, sounds hard core. I look forward to reading about how the team deals with the technical, weather and other challenges, as much as anything. Best wishes for a safe and successful trip.

  11. Lou Dawson 2 March 29th, 2015 7:22 pm

    See, it’s move over Apollo 13 remote engineering! Sounds like they were able to direct wire the battery to the panels, but have to watch out it doesn’t over charge and explode. We’re sending up a new rig as they were planning on a “bump” from Drake anyway (moving camp, perhaps a fresh pizza delivery from Haines, etc.) Lou

  12. Julia March 29th, 2015 7:29 pm

    Alaska sure has got lots of snow – and that first line is not too shabby at all! Meanwhile we ski on some grass here in pnw 🙂

    Bummer to hear that the solar system is busted, but I’m glad that they have everything they need for comms minus blogging.

  13. See March 29th, 2015 7:38 pm

    Beware the charge controller.

    Any idea what voltage they’re getting off the panel mostly?

  14. See March 30th, 2015 8:28 am

    I imagine the conditions in AK, in March, in a storm, aren’t optimal for solar power generation. I was thinking that the open circuit voltage might provide a clue as to whether the problem was related to this. I hope the Wildsnow off grid power system will be revealed at some point (and beware “uncontrolled” charging, especially lithium ion, as Lou doubtless knows better than I).

  15. Matt Kinney March 30th, 2015 10:33 am

    “I Can’t believe with all the terrain that they have access to, heli skiing operations would poach your area. Shame on those lazy bums!!

    Sounds like SEABA of Haines and Mark. This is not an issue in Girdwood or Cordova. In Valdez, we become accustomed to their rudeness. toward public recreationalist.

    Gotta love a heliguide who will land next to your touring group and explain that they will be operating all around them and leave with a “have a good day.” and some rotor wash….especially in the largest glaciated terrain in NA. Meanwhile you get to ski the wilds of Alaska with rotors noise all day. They of course hide the ship when their clients ski so they can enjoy the quiet…..but not you.

    Louis and your pals the real deal, they ain’t.. So leave them signature lines. Rant end

  16. Lou Dawson 2 March 30th, 2015 10:51 am

    See, thanks for your interest, more coming once we know how it all sorts out. Plenty of solar energy comes through clouds, more than most people think. What attenuates charging worse than anything is snow or dust on panels, or having them not ideally facing the sun. Lou

  17. Lou Dawson 2 March 30th, 2015 10:54 am

    Matt, indeed it sounded really strange to me that those heli guys would show up in that exact spot. One wonders if there might have been a little bit of territorialism going on, or else the heli guys are so clueless they wait ’till the human powered guys suss out the routes? It is such a HUGE area, seems like everyone has plenty of room to play.

    As for the worst part of it, Louie’s take on the heuristic aspect is of special concern. Strange the heli guides would trigger that, both for their clients as well as Louie’s group.

    Perhaps there is more to the story. Probably is.

    Upside is if someone gets hurt It’s the heli operators who usually help out, isn’t it? In that sense I’m glad they’re around.


  18. Shane March 30th, 2015 12:51 pm

    I’m pretty darn jealous of Louie and his pals. Although, thinking of them huddled in a tent during a storm cycle while I get ready for this afternoon’s nearly 70 degree temps and an early start to the Montana mountain bike season helps a little.

    I am disappointed that they were intruded upon by the heli-outfit. As a BC skier I usually aim for another drainage whenever possible to give other parties their space. Just like you don’t crowd a fisherman when you can walk farther upstream.

    That said, having been on a heli-trip in Haines last March I have my own theory as to who/why they paid a visit. The Tomahawk route is apparently something of an iconic line and it may not have come into season last year when the snow conditions weren’t very good leading to pros cancelling trips, photo shoots, etc. If some pros really had their heart set on filming that this year, and if Louie is indeed that close, it’s somewhat inevitable that the heli-operator would try to please their paying clients as the season winds down.

    My guess is that this wasn’t SEABA but rather AK Heli Adventures. I believe their head avy forecaster is named Mark so it makes sense that he would be checking on things in advance of a photo shoot. I have nothing at all bad to say about Mark and the crew. If the scenario I described above is what’s playing out I imagine that the guides also feel bad about butting in on Louie, but they got bills to pay.

  19. Lou Dawson 2 March 30th, 2015 2:56 pm

    Shane, indeed, if it’s an iconic line that’s the way it is. Totally understandable, though one does wish they wanted to be more original… I guess they’ll do that by picking a different song to go with the same shot of the same line… (grin). Lou

  20. Shane March 30th, 2015 3:57 pm

    “I guess they’ll do that by picking a different song to go with the same shot of the same line”.

    Ha, no doubt, Lou! Other than stumbling on “Valhalla” on Netflix, I haven’t bothered with a ski movie since, shoot, something like 2007… where does the time go?

  21. Matt Kinney March 30th, 2015 6:49 pm

    Iconic lines are a dime a dozen up here. Public recreation should normally trump commercial recreation in wilderness as to who leaves or stays.

    Lou, the comment about heliski operations being available for a “potential” accidents doesn’t wash with me. It’s kinda like “aren’t you lucky we are here!”. When they bring it up over and over it makes me cringe as it sounds like marketing than reality. But, I will admit they have rescued one or two locals in 20 years. Much more so their own guides or clients. Assuredly they would respond to any emergency as any of us would in Thompson Pass who have the skills.

    1000’s of Alaskans from Haines to Girdwood ski all winter in complicated terrain on our own wits, so I find the remarks a bit condescending as a skinner, when they show up for 6 weeks of a 9 month ski season and make such a pronouncement, When they are not here, we have excellent statewide resources for SAR with the military and Alaska Mountain Rescue Group. I depend on them. But hey, A heliship ride a with broken leg and DC doing vitals would be hard to turn down these days quite honestly, as the hospital is right across the street from my residence. 🙂

    Last time I crawled out of the mountains, but that’s another story.

    anyway skied way good today…….

  22. Lou Dawson 2 March 30th, 2015 7:20 pm

    Cool Matt, thanks for being here on WildSnow. And there in AK. Lou

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