Mid-winter in Alaska and the excitement I held last September when I started my job here still puts a smile on my face as I bike to work. I have often talked of owning my own heli-ski business one day. So when the job opportunity to work for Coastal Helicopters arose, I packed my bags and flew to the offer.My first week on the job was sensory overload in a glorious way. Hovering machines that defy gravity. Turbine engines that scream. The smell of jet fuel. This is definitely different than my previous aviation experience of working on bush planes.
Tourists come year round and book scenic flights to view Juneau’s ice-field and glaciers. When there’s an empty seat, sometimes I’m lucky to be asked to fill it. The sensation of hovering in space sends my stomach straight to my throat as we effortlessly move around the clouds. The views from the plastic bubble are incredible despite overcast weather. When the pilot picks a spot in the middle of severely crevassed glacier and tells me that’s where we are going to land, my eyes do a double take. This is way different than landing a ski-plane on a snowy glacier runway where, although sketchy at best, the landing strip is in sight. This is an opportunity to get close with mother nature and look deep down into her scars. The experience is always awe-inspiring, yet also alarming, especially after I watched the film, “Chasing Ice.”
“Chasing Ice” is a film about the affect of global warming on glaciers around the world. James Balog, a photographer whose work revolves around the relationship between humans and nature, created a documentary on glacial melt. Chasing Ice, his latest work, reports on the Extreme Ice Survey, which captures the twisting, soaring forms of threatened wild ice and shares shocking footage of the world’s largest ice fields degrading at a rate faster than we could imagine. Images of ice blocks the size of the Empire State building calving into the ocean will make us rethink our views on global climate change.
The experience of hovering above these hostile living glaciers to landing on their ever-fracturing crust was even more powerful after seeing this film. With such warm temperatures this winter, I’m more motivated than ever to get out and chase some ice before our backcountry playground melts away.
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WildSnow Girl, Amy Heuer, grew up in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. When she wasn’t skiing, she was flying small planes with her father. Now she pursues both passions in Juneau, Alaska, where she is an aviation mechanic.