WildSnow Weekend — Soaring Elsewhere


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 11, 2015      

(Editor’s note: some of you may have been wondering why you haven’t heard from one of our favorite WildSnow Girls, Amy Heuer. Here’s an update.)

A good friend told me awhile back, “When life knocks you down, you have to figure some way to get back up and walk again. Adventure is lurking in every shadow, behind every corner…and it’s up to you to face your fears and move on.” Bamm! This really hit home.

Three years ago I took a big leap, packed a suitcase and flew north. I was following my passions of skiing and aviation and believed I had found my calling in Alaska.

The dramatic landscape of AK. Power of water magnified. If only I could fly these skies forever, scouting out new ski runs and places to explore.

The dramatic landscape of AK. Power of water magnified. If only I could fly these skies forever, scouting out new ski runs and places to explore.

The five months that followed in Haines gave me a glimpse into my dream job as a aircraft mechanic working for a ski-plane business, and showed me what experience and hard work can accomplish. After a season of working for Fly Drake in Haines, I moved to Juneau, AK to work with Coastal Helicopters. Coastal “yellow” became my banner color, and I wore it proudly as I sat through ski premiers, watching my yellow birds drop skiers and boarders on peaks nearby, or as I worked for heli-ski contracts in the remote places outside of Haines and Valdez. It seemed as though life was finally coming together. Or so I thought.

Then, earlier this year, three friends and I were caught in a bad storm while winter camping on a peak near Juneau.

What started out as a weekend camping trip to enjoy the rare sunny skies in southeast Alaska turned into a nightmare scramble off a snowy ridge after our tent was ripped apart by the fierce Taku winds. Our gear was scattered into the darkness, and without protection, we got pinned high up on the ridge. For thirty hours, we sat exposed next to a pile off rocks the size of my neighbor’s love seat. Without food, water, shelter or adequate insulation, the four of us huddled under our one remaining sleeping bag until the voracious one hundred mph winds died down enough to allow us to crawl off the ridge.

The results of that thirty-hour hellish experience were severe frostbite to both of my feet, a med-evac flight to Anchorage and five months of healing on my parents’ couch in Carbondale, CO. I eventually had six toes amputated and have been recovering from surgery and lingering nerve pain back in Juneau since mid-July.

The mis-adventure as I’m calling it has brought about huge changes in my life, and rather than get stuck in a rut, my husband and I are moving on. We’ve been given a rare opportunity, a second chance to live life with a different outlook. I don’t want to waste it.

My first step toward facing my fears and moving on was to fly my Cessna along the coastline of Alaska/Canada back to Colorado. With my dad as my co-pilot, the trip took us three days, ten fuel stops, a jump start from a taxi, an eighty dollar international call, and a visit with Canadian and US Customs. It incorporated over seventeen hours of flying. This trip has always been a dream of mine, ever since my dad first flew up to Alaska for a fishing trip with his buddies years ago. Not only is the scenery beyond beautiful, but the experience necessary to complete the trip was a huge test of the skills I’ve been sharpening while flying in Alaska.

The landscape I'm leaving behind, Glacier Bay National Park lay in my backdoor.

The landscape I’m leaving behind, Glacier Bay National Park lay in my backdoor.

Juneau Icefield, so many areas yet to be explored -- guess I'll just have to come back!

So many areas yet to be explored — guess I’ll just have to come back!

The huge glaciers of Glacier Bay.

The huge glaciers of Glacier Bay. Click to enlarge.

At such a time when the future is so uncertain, and when rehab is going slower than I would have thought possible, it was an incredible feeling to accomplish a life-long goal.

I realize now, more than ever, that life’s hiccups make us grow.

Adventures sharpen our skills, prioritize our lives and lead us down new paths to explore. I may not be able to walk fully at the moment, but I am finding new ways to soar.

Routine maintenance.  Everything needs to be perfect in order to fly long distances over water.  The last thing we want is an engine failure in a remote location.

Routine maintenance. Everything needs to be perfect in order to fly long distances over water. The last thing we want is an engine failure in a remote location.

My dad and I before take off.

My dad and I before take off.

A trip up North can be very successful.  I packed up 150 lbs of frozen fish for our journey south.

A trip up north can be very successful. I packed up 150 lbs of frozen fish for our journey south.

The flight from Juneau, down the coastline to Vancouver, Canada is some of the most spectacular scenery -- glaciers, jagged peaks, islands and so many colors of water.

The flight from Juneau, down the coastline to Vancouver, Canada has some of the most spectacular scenery — glaciers, jagged peaks, islands and so many colors of water.

Flying low over Petersburg, AK, looking towards to the US-Canadian border.

Flying low over Petersburg, AK, looking towards to the US-Canadian border.

Flying south, the leg from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert.

Flying south, the leg from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert.

Foggy seas after take-off.  Somewhere below those clouds lies Vancouver, BC.

Foggy seas after take-off. Somewhere below those clouds lies Vancouver, BC.

From glacial peaks and deep waters, to grassy farmlands of Oregon, I feel as though I've seen it all, and yet have so much left to see.

From glacial peaks and deep waters, to grassy farmlands of Oregon, I feel as though I’ve seen it all, and yet have so much left to see.

Barely capturing the sun's last rays from an eastern Oregon sunset.

Barely capturing the sun’s last rays from an eastern Oregon sunset.

Safe and sound and on our home ground in Glenwood Springs, CO.

Safe and sound and on our home ground in Glenwood Springs, CO.

WildSnow Girl, Amy (Heuer) Helm, grew up in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. When she wasn’t skiing, she was flying small planes with her father. After pursuing both passions in Alaska, where she worked as a helicopter mechanic, she’s now road tripping through North America, exploring new terrain and getting stoked for winter.

Week in review — WildSnow posts from October 5th through October 9th:

BC Link — handheld radio for the backcountry.

Every ski tourer needs this in their basement.

Backcountry news round up.



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Comments

11 Responses to “WildSnow Weekend — Soaring Elsewhere”

  1. Lisa Dawson October 11th, 2015 11:04 am

    Amy, you’re an inspiration, now more than ever. The photos fuel my desire to fly in small planes. Beautiful!

  2. Lou Dawson 2 October 11th, 2015 2:18 pm

    Amy, you and your dad rule. Apparently we need an “aviation” category on this blog! Lou

  3. Bruno Schull October 11th, 2015 3:29 pm

    Amy, your post grabbed me. I don’t know exactly why, but it’s honest, real, and inspiring. I hope that when my six year old daughter grows up, she can live her own dreams. To do so partly at my side, like you and your father did flying together, would fulfill my own dreams. I wish you the best on your new adventures, whatever they may be.

  4. trollanski October 11th, 2015 6:42 pm

    Amy. So glad you are living the dream, and sorry for your bad experience. Having fished and flown in Southeast since the mid seventies, I would caution you to wade into the waters SLOWLY, as it is the stuff you don’t know, and that take years to comprehend, that will get you killed. Again, glad you are okay (edited).

  5. Rudi October 12th, 2015 9:13 am

    Thanks trollanski if only she’d had your XY wisdom! Do you feel less threatened now after admonishing this independent young woman in a blog comments section? Literally ever time she posts something on this website somebody has to comment on here dismissively. It’s just ridiculous and embarrassing. I was going to delete this rant but i think its constructive criticism for a very professionally run blog. I am just so sick of men telling women to take it slowly under the veil of concern for their well being.

  6. Lou Dawson 2 October 12th, 2015 9:22 am

    Rudi and all, I didn’t catch Trollandski’s little dig about “locals.”

    I do get tired of Alaskan “locals” coping an attitude. Alaskan locals regularly make mistakes.

    I was thinking of letting this stand as an example of a comment bordering on personal attack, but I think we’ll do a rare “censoring” in this case as I’m inddeed calling this out as a personal attack.

    Trollandski, I know you probably meant well, but your phrasing could have been kinder.

    One thing great about Amy is she takes some risks with her writing, and shares. That makes for good prose. A good writer will engender reactions from the reader and I think Amy is aware of that. On the other hand, WildSnow is intended to be a friendly supportive place, so I’d ask everyone to keep that in mind.

    Lou

  7. Matt Kinney October 12th, 2015 9:43 am

    Wow Amy. Amazing story and glad you survived Alaska. Good luck with everything you do in the future, bumps included. Would enjoy a more in depth write up on your storm experience, but perhaps it’s best to leave it in the past. Alaska has chewed me up and spit me out a few times. Each time I withdrew from folks, embarrassed? yes, humbled? yes. Eventually the pain moves on. Thanks again for your sincere story. “Mudhole” Smith would love you!

  8. Drew Tabke October 12th, 2015 10:14 am

    Amy!
    What a journey. I’m so sorry for what you went through, I can’t imagine how painful that all must have been.

    You were so kind to Chopo, Claudio and I when we met you in Haines in 2012 and your life story has always stuck with me and motivated me. Hope we can catch up someday soon.

  9. Scott Nelson October 12th, 2015 12:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing your journey Amy! Life can be interesting sometimes, not getting back up is always tempting, glad to see you chose otherwise. Sometimes a whole new world can open up. You are awesome!

  10. Pat October 14th, 2015 6:25 am

    Amy, you are truly an inspiration to everyone who comes in contact with you. I am always in awe of the things you have done and accomplished already. Keep on enjoying every moment of your life and following your dreams.

  11. Amy October 21st, 2015 1:49 pm

    Thank you so much for the kind words and positive feedback! It’s still a sensitive subject, but I am finding healing and strength by sharing my stories with others.

    I would like to thank the incredible network of family and friends who have supported me throughout this tragedy and have helped me stay positive. Having people believe in me as been instrumental in making a comeback. I’m so lucky!

    Bruno – my father has always been my biggest fan. He’s supported me on every crazy idea I’ve had, whether good or bad, and he’s been there to help pick up the pieces when things didn’t turn out exactly right. Support your daughter and her dreams. It will be the best gift you can give her πŸ™‚

    Matt – I read your website and wished we had met when I was up in Valdez….maybe next year? πŸ˜‰ I started the “dirtbag diary” version of my story, but have yet to finish it. Perhaps, like you say, once the pain moves on, I can put the final words in place. Until then, I’m exploring the Canadian Rockies and falling in love with the outdoors all over again. Funny, how the places that scare us can also heal us.

    Drew – I streamed the Freeride Comp online from my recovery couch and wished we were hanging out in Haines! Stoked to still see you in the world circuit and definitely looking forward to a catch up with you, Chopo and Claudio. All the best πŸ™‚





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