Monoplankers in Disguise – TR from Haines, AK

Post by blogger | May 29, 2012      

Tyler Wilkes

The promised land of Haines, Alaska.

The promised land of Haines, Alaska.

Ever noticed where the best footage in ski and snowboard movies comes from? Or the locations for your favorite photos in snow magazines? Nine times out of ten, the most unique terrain and best snow in the world is found in Alaska. Spines, flutes, ramps, faces, couloirs, glaciers, Alaska has it all.

I am a 25-year-old splitboarder from Vancouver, BC. I have been touring in the BC south coast mountains for five years now, and this year was finally my break to get a full season off. I graduated from university in early December, and decided that I would go splitboarding every day my legs would allow this season with the ultimate goal being to get to Alaska for April to see what the hype was about.

To make it happen I got in touch with a good friend from Ireland, Gavan Hennigan. He has just as much free time off as I do since he is a contract commercial diver, so we rented an RV and cruised the province of British Columbia from December to mid April. Johanna and Ben also joined us for most of the trip as well. Our goal was to go out and ride amazing snow in new zones that have never been done on splitboards.

The season in British Columbia was another one for the ages. We spent January in Pemberton, and watched the snowpack grow from just over 1m to over 3.5m by the end of the month. We were tits deep in snow almost every single day. We followed that up with February at Rogers Pass, BC where we had everything from bluebird alpine days to some of the deepest, most blower pillow lines you can imagine. We topped that with the month of March in Terrace, BC where the alpine opened up for us and we put in the biggest lines of our lives in the Cambria Icefield. All of this was amazing, but the whole time we were just waiting and planning for Alaska (I know, we are spoiled…). The draw of Alaskan terrain is unparalleled to anything else in the world.

So how do two dirtbag splitboard mountaineers go to Alaska on a budget to live the dream? Well, we got in touch with an airplane pilot named Drake Olson who is based in Haines, AK (check him out at He is able to do drops out in Glacier Bay National Park west of town towards the coast and well out of heli zones. The park is home to the most ridiculous expanse of endless peaks and glaciers one could ever imagine. The plan was to fly over the park with Drake and find a spot to set up camp for a couple of weeks.

We rolled into town on the ferry at the start of April, with 2.5 weeks to get a weather window. We fully understood that the weather in Haines is highly unpredictable, and we could very well have spent the whole 3 weeks sitting in town twiddling our thumbs or sitting in the tent digging a snow cave to maintain sanity through a week long storm. But within our first 3 days in town, the weather cracked and we jumped in the plane with 2 weeks worth of gear and an extra food drop left with the pilot.

I don’t think Gavan and I have ever been so nervous as when we jumped in that plane. Six months of planning, a winter of training and practicing glacier skills, nights of packing and agonizing over details, and finally it was go time. After 15 minutes in the air, we were looking at the gnarliest mountains we had ever laid eyes on.

The next thing we knew, we were on the ground jumping out of the plane into waist deep blower powder. We picked a zone at relatively high elevation because of expected warm temps, and we wanted a relatively “mellow” area for our first Alaskan experience. Instead of setting up camp, we decided to take advantage of the sun and snow and go on a tour.

Our first line in AK…not bad!

Our first line in AK…not bad!

The views from the ridges around our camp were jaw dropping. The mountains went on for days and days and days. And not just any mountains – some of the best terrain you can’t even dream up. The pictures say it all.

Overall, 7 of 10 days on the glacier were bluebird. Temps in the afternoon were blazing hot, so every day started at 5am and finished by 2:30pm. The snow stayed preserved on north aspects the whole trip. Every single day we hit a new zone with steep runs and perfect alpine snow. The afternoons were spent drying gear and lounging in the sun at camp nursing our sunburns.

After almost two weeks of riding, doing a few days over 2000m climbing (with lots of boot packing), we were begging for mercy. But we pushed on for more as the weather allowed. No sunny day can be wasted out here.

Despite the impressively difficult lines that can be ridden in Haines, the hardest part by far is climbing. We had to employ every bit of strength, skill, luck, and courage to climb this stuff. Mountaineering our way up the lines was the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced in the mountains. And not only was the climbing technically challenging, but it seemed that no matter what time of day, or what route we choose, we were always exposed to some ridiculous, unavoidable objective hazard that made us feel insignificant.

This brand of snowboarding was pioneered by the likes of Jeremy Jones and company in the movie Deeper’ but I think we proved that you don’t have to be a sponsored pro rider to enjoy what Alaska has to offer.

In the end, we survived 10 days of climbing and riding some of the biggest lines of our lives. Haines, Alaska is truly home to some of the most unique terrain, and the possibilities are endless. Most of these places have never been climbed, skied, or snowboarded before and we only scratched the surface. One thing is clear: I will be back in Alaska for as many springs as I possibly can. And I hope the fact that we are just two regular old dirtbags will inspire more people to get out and enjoy what the world up there has to offer.

Enjoy the video.

Guest blogger Tyler Wilkes is a dirtbag splitboarder and mountain biker hailing from Vancouver, BC who spends as much time as possible exploring the mountains of British Columbia. Despite recently graduating from university with a degree in environmental engineering, he has delayed his entry to “real life” by working seasonal jobs in the bush in summer and traveling BC in an RV to splitboard mountaineer in winter. Gavan Hennigan is a commercial diver from Ireland. His work lets him travel the world to ride snow and surf boards more than half the year, and his favorite place for snow is British Columbia. Tyler and Gavan have spent two seasons together employing their mountaineering skills to ride snowboards in places and on lines seldom done in BC and Alaska.


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24 Responses to “Monoplankers in Disguise – TR from Haines, AK”

  1. Lee Lau May 29th, 2012 11:32 am

    That’s a blast of cold, fresh air

  2. Xavier May 29th, 2012 11:43 am

    Met these two in Shames, BC before their AK trip. They were stoked then….I can only imagine how more stoked they were in AK. Kudos….nice trip.

  3. Lou May 29th, 2012 11:50 am

    We really like this TR here at WildSnow HQ, suddenly planning trip to Hains.

  4. thomas May 29th, 2012 11:53 am

    Great post without this “in new zones that have never been done on splitboards.”

    Even some of the earliest TGR flicks where claiming some firsts that had already been skied . Then Jeremy Jones claiming a “pioneering method ” of fly in camp and ride that has been the local cheap standard for many many years, in many many ranges.
    Is it no longer enough to just enjoy perfection without having to always add some “first” twist.?
    Glad you had a great time, it was an amazing season.

  5. Colin May 29th, 2012 11:54 am

    Top Notch!

  6. Lee Lau May 29th, 2012 11:57 am

    I think the ““in new zones that have never been done on splitboards.” was part enthusiasm and part wishful thinking. I told them that Cambria Icefield and Cambria Peak (for example) probably has been skied before but who knows really? And to me anyway, who cares. Its’ beautiful lines in perfect conditions. Thank lucky stars and move on…. basically I agree with thomas

  7. Joe May 29th, 2012 1:06 pm

    Awesome post boys! Great videos as well.

  8. Lou May 29th, 2012 1:12 pm

    Yeah, these days, nothing is new (grin)! But hey, the whole thrust of this post is youthful enthusiasm. Let it “ride” and just enjoy it. Lou

  9. wilkez May 29th, 2012 1:18 pm

    Lou if you go to haines it might spoil you for all other skiing…so far it has done that for me!

    And as for firsts, I guess the goal wasn’t to get first ascents descents, but more to just explore some more unknown areas of where I live. It just so happens that out in glacier bay, you don’t even have to try hard to get firsts as there is so much to do and so few people/so little time to do it.

  10. Lisa May 29th, 2012 6:50 pm

    Bravo boys! I like how you are living your life with gusto. Thanks for the TR and your beautiful photos. Certainly makes me want to go to AK.

  11. Sofia - WinterStays May 29th, 2012 7:34 pm

    That sounds like an experience of a lifetime, amazing!! Just out of curiosity, you said you did it on a budget, so how much did the whole thing end up costing?

  12. wilkez May 29th, 2012 8:14 pm

    we used about 2hrs of fly time @ $450/hr so it was under $1000 worth of flights. we took the ferry to haines from prince rupert, bc and that was $1000. Living along the way was free in the RV obviously. Other than that, the only costs were food and some gear that we didn’t have. But if you are fullet set up for base camping, this is certainly the way to see AK for a lot less than the price of heli skiing ($1000+/day)!

  13. Rob May 30th, 2012 7:25 am

    Nice pictures, and an inspirational trip! I flew F-15s in Alaska back in the early 90s, and flew over those mountains all the time. Back then I was a resort skier, and it never dawned on me that those peaks were ski terrain. I kick myself now!

    Well done!

  14. Sharon Bader May 30th, 2012 9:02 am

    Way to do it!

  15. naginalf May 30th, 2012 10:49 am

    I think you need to work on your blog post writing. This was extremely difficult to read with such awesome pics on the screen ;)! Great trip report, thanks!

  16. Louie Dawson May 30th, 2012 11:41 am


  17. Gregg C May 30th, 2012 1:31 pm

    Nice Report Tyler. I liked that you made a plan and just flew and there to see what you would find. Excellent….representing the spirit of ski alpinism.

  18. Nick May 30th, 2012 4:19 pm

    This honestly is one of the best TRs I have seen on the internet. Great pictures and videos and an amazing trip! Nice work.

  19. Rob Coppolillo May 30th, 2012 8:03 pm

    Great stuff, guys! Inspiring and fun…and yeah, maybe a little enthusiastic about “firsts” and what not…but hey, seeing the terrain you guys skied…I’d have been gushing about it, too! Good show!

  20. Sharon Bader May 30th, 2012 10:30 pm

    For all the people commenting about the ‘firsts’ and ya maybe but probably not…

    he did say the terrain is HUGE, there are not a lot of people around and not a lot of opportunities to ski it so maybe.

    Bottom line is, he was there an you were probably sitting at a desk!

  21. eric kane May 31st, 2012 2:07 pm

    nice work fellow splitters! just got my split setup in march and NEVER want to stop searching.. getting stronger and faster to take on such dreams as this! NICE WORK!!

  22. thomas May 31st, 2012 5:25 pm

    Sharon, as a long time Alaskan I am glad when folks get to come up and have an experience where they FEEL like it is a first. Then claiming firsts because no one they know went there and blogged about it is a different matter.
    I have been to slideshows where people claiming first descents of lines that we’d skied 4 years previous, or people gushing about a first traverse that had been done 20 years earlier, watched movies claiming firsts descents ( with heli) when said line had been skied 10 years earlier. My point is many people have been doing fun stuff for a long time, just because it is not on someones blog doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
    Just enjoy the experience for what it feels like, without gunning for the “first” angle.
    Rant over.

  23. Boz June 2nd, 2012 12:12 pm

    that looks to be have been an amazing season.

  24. mike June 5th, 2012 5:52 am

    Living the dream

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