BD employee Dylan Freed reports on epic season of heli-ski guiding in Alaska
BD employee Dylan Freed works part-time here in Salt Lake City, running the ski cage to make sure all the demos are mounted, tuned, waxed and ready to rip throughout the winter. When he’s not here in Utah, Dylan, who runs a pretty sweet mohawk, splits time heli guiding in Alaska and New Zealand (and testing the latest prototype skis and boots). A pretty sweet life, indeed. Here’s a report and photos Dylan put together of his spring season of guiding in Alaska, a season many are calling “all time.”
Well, the end of the Northern Hemisphere ski season has finally sunk in. Pretty amazing end to what started for me in December as a pretty shitty winter in Utah. But, these kind of years make you grateful for what you usually have and give another great reason to travel for other destinations that hold better conditions.
Luckily, I had the opportunity for a trip back to La Grave in February, returning with time to repack quickly to start another season guiding in Valdez, AK.
A stormy winter with record snowfall prior to our March-April heli season made me pretty fearful of the potential to spend a lot of days sitting on the ground watching it snow or blow. But fortunately, as soon as we arrived, the weather broke and we didn’t have more than 2 days in a row on the ground (6 no-fly days the entire 60-day season). An incredible amount of frequent snowfall during the early-mid winter and little wind (compared to other years) made avalanche hazards minimal and lines come into awesome shape.
Once again, I made the decision to have the helicopter carry around the 195 Gigawatts the entire season, which were certainly necessary on many days. I have skied a lot of deep snow in Utah, but I never knew snow that deep could stick to lines 45-degrees and steeper. The first weeks in Valdez were highlighted by conditions on runs that left multiple guides speechless at the bottom (which is difficult to do). Some runs right in our backyard were literally armpit-deep sluff piles in 45-degree couloirs. The rest of the lines held knee-deep dry powder that persisted for many weeks because of cold temps and minimal solar affect being early in the spring.
This “epic” (and I don’t use that word much) season coincided with the re-opening of the Tsaina Lodge (version 2.0); a completely new construction of the landmark lodge that Doug Coombs started housing heli ski guests in for the early years of commercial guiding on Thompson Pass. This made for an absolute ideal setting due to its location in proximity to terrain and generally more flyable weather than coastal environments. Having several helicopters less than a minute from your doorstep is something else; we flew and skied so much there were several mornings where I looked out the window actually hoping for clouds to delay our start or get a rest day. That may sound horrible, but the combination of skiing hard many days in a row and loading the skis/packs in and out of the basket up to 15 times a day does a number on your lower back. Many long days were logged working with the Teton Gravity Research film crew starting at 7am in -28 degrees C for early morning sessions, then guiding “regular” clients all day until 5pm and go out with the TGR rockstars again to get big runs in last light at 8pm.
Carrying a fairly substantial amount of gear in your pack goes along with guiding and having the rescue equipment extremely accessible is paramount in my world. So I was happy to have the Fall 2012 proto Anarchist with the new back-panel access for the main compartment and the most convenient avy tools pocket BD has constructed yet.
The only gear that failed for me this year were 3 helmet mounts for my POV camera, so not all the epic conditions and lines were captured on film.
Now, it's off to New Zealand for the next Heli season; snow is falling and luckily I'll be taking the new 195 Amperages with sidewall construction to rip on.