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Alaska Heli Trip - Summary

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
Well, now that we've been back for over a week and the smile STILL refuses to leave my face, I'll finally get around to the summary. My friends are so tired of hearing about our heli trip that they've all left for Moab or Mexico or Costa Rica or wherever.


Might as well deal with it up front. As we were preparing for this trip, we were hearing all kinds of horror stories (mostly second-hand from people who hadn't actually SKIED there) about how difficult/dangerous/steep/scary the skiing is in the Chugach. We were told we would fall off cliffs, get buried in avalanches, get lost in the wilderness, or crash in the helicopter. This went on to the point where my wife was literally terrified of what she was going to find there and I was pretty scared myself.

The reality?

There's an endless supply of terrain and conditions in the Chugach Range that could cause a jackhammer heartrate for even the best skiers in the world. There are faces and chutes there that are on the scary side of sixty degrees with killer exposure if you were to fall or miss a turn.

The nice part?

That stuff is there if that's what you're looking for and the guides will take you to it if you're good enough. But there's an even MORE endless supply (how's that for mangled English? ) of great, fun skiing for the rest of us. The group we were in are all strong skiers but not superstars. They're comfortable on moderately steep slopes and in powder and most junky snow. "Comfortable", not infallible. We had falls, rest stops, jitters at the top, etc., but no one ever felt over their head.

The truth is we skied somewhere a little short of 100,000 vertical feet, much of which was challenging and exciting, much of which was just great, relaxed skiing. We flew to heart-stopping landing zones that became fairly routine once you figured out how well these guys have it figured out and how many times they've done it. We looked over the edges of runs that gave you a little tingly feeling but were totally manageabe once you dropped in.

We wore climbing harnesses at all times because of the slight-but-present risk of a fall into a crevasse. There were times when our guides were explicit about instructions on where - EXACTLY - to ski because of concern for snow bridges on glaciers. Despite that, or perhaps because of the detailed instructions, we felt very comfortable and had no incidents of any kind.

We wore avalanche beacons at all times and had to demonstrate our ability to find a buried beacon quickly before they let us in the helicopter. We were briefed on helicopter safety constantly and we learned to be fast and efficient at loading and unloading the copter safely.

The Overall Experience:

One of the things that most hits you when heli skiing here for the first time is the VISUAL drama of those mountains. Most of the drainages have 3,000 to 5,000 vertical feet of relief or more. As the heli heads upward, more and more peaks and valleys come into view. You start to see skiing possibilities that simply overload your brain's ability to process the information.

Suddenly, the copter will veer over to some impossibly tiny summit or ridgeline and you abruptly realize that the pilot is going to LAND this thing on that little speck of snow with a couple thousand feet of air underneath it! That experience takes a little getting used to, but it eventually becomes a huge part of the fun.

When unloading, the guide hops out and starts unloading the gear basket. In our little group(s), I would be the next one out and I would locate the remainder of the party (after very specific directions from the guide) and help unload the gear. We clients would then make ourselves a really, really tiny little pile of people next to the gear and in sight of the pilot. The guide would give the "go" signal, the heli would lift off in a swirl of snow and disappear, and you would suddenly be standing in the sunshine on the very top of the skiing world. Unbelievable.

When skiing steeper slopes that were somewhat suspect from an avalanche standpoint, we would watch as the guide ski-cut the slope and then skied to a safe point. Sometimes this was a LONG way down the hill. We would then ski one at a time to whereever the guide wanted us to stop. The snow was typically knee-deep or slightly more, light and fluffy. You might have to deal with sluffing snow while you skied, which is another really fun part of the whole thing. Sometimes we were in the shadows, sometimes in the sun. The visibility was ALWAYS very good except for one morning when we skied into a mid-mountain cloud and all lights of any sort went out. : All the rest of the time, we could see perfectly on every turn.

The amazing part is how your perception of things changes as you ski more up there. You start to actually UNDERSTAND where the pilot is going to put down on that crazy ridgeline, you start to look at a 45-degree slope as something that's a little interesting instead of intimidating, and you start to SEEK OUT situations where you're racing your sluff rather than trying to avoid it. I was truly impressed with how our guides (and pilot) gradually boosted our confidence level along with our skills.

We skied enormous runs that were really no steeper than a solid blue/black at many resorts. Imagine skiing the top pitch of Regulator Johnson at Snowbird, only doing it for 4,000 vertical feet of the same pitch in knee-deep fluff in the sunshine. That's the kind of skiing we did and it was simply incredible. There is endless skiing there for moderately good skiers, so don't let the hype scare you off.

The Lodge and Guides:

Top notch.

The lodge was clean, comfortable, cozy, friendly, and fun. Our rooms were large with bath/shower in each room. The food was freshly made by a great staff who are all as into skiing as the guests. We got to know all the staff and they were just wonderful.

The guides are professional and extremely safety-conscious. You tell them what you want in the way of skiing and they'll deliver it. Period.

The Cost:

There are several ways the heli can be priced and I've listed their pricing webpage below. Our group was on the "Full Package", which is:

The Full Package - 6 runs at $780 a day double-guided with a second group or tail guide with up to 4 skiers or snowboarders in each group. 4 day minimum. Additional runs beyond the 6th that day are $110 per run.

This does not include rooms, meals, and drinks. Rooms, (I think) are a little over $100/night and evening meals averaged $20-24 each. This is not a cheap way to ski, but the satisfaction factor (in our case at least) is just off the charts.

Overall, I couldn't have been more impressed with everything about the trip. We had great skiing in an exciting but safe environment. We were able to see a part of the world that simply can't be described, it has to be experienced.

If you have specific questions, please PM me. If you want to contact the lodge directly, ask for Theo Meiners or Bruce Keller to call you back. Tell them I recommended you call. They'll answer any questions you could possibly have.

One last note:

The possibilities for spectacularly great corn skiing seem to be endless there. Bruce told me that early May offers the kind of spring skiing that the rest of us just dream about. Spring skiing is so fun because you can safely and confidently ski the steepest things there are and the ride is so smooth you'd swear you're on the easiest run at Deer Valley. If I go back (translation: if I can ever afford it), I'll go for corn season.

Here's the main website for Alaska Rendezvous Lodge:


And here's the pricing:

There are 4 programs for the 2006 season:
1) The Alaskan Local - 2 runs very close to the Lodge location for $250.
2) The Full Package - 6 runs at $780 a day double-guided with a second group or tail guide with up to 4 skiers or snowboarders in each group. 4 day minimum. Additional runs beyond the 6th that day are $110 per run.

3) The Semi-private package - Exclusive helicopter services at $3,700* per hour (Hobbs time). 2.5 hour minimum per day, with a 10-hour or 4-day commitment. This program MUST be booked 60 days in advance with 50% down and full payment on arrival. NO REFUNDS for individuals in the group - with 3 groups maximum for this program. Guide fees will be charged if extra guides are requested or needed because of slow group members, extreme skiing or very remote locations. Guide fees are $270 a day. All day trips begin and end at the Alaska Rendezvous Lodge location at Mile 45 north on the Richardson Highway. Due to fixed overhead of operations. Therefore, ARG is only able to offer a 20% refund due to weather, snow storms or EXTREME avalanche hazard if we are unable to fly during your stay. Please consider purchasing traveler's insurance as well as health and life coverage. The Alaska Rendezvous Lodge and ARG do not cover these items.
* Note: The fuel surcharge is based on the U.S. Gulf Coast (USGC) Index for Kerosene-Type Jet Fuel Price as reported by the U.S. Department of Energy. For jet fuel prices at or above US$1.52 (October 2004), the fuel surcharge will equal 1.0% for each US$0.07 increase in fuel prices. See the USGC Index for the spot price per gallon of kerosene-type jet fuel. The prices in these indices are published by the U.S. Department of Energy and ARLinc is not responsible for the accuracy or completeness of this information.
All Semi-private and Private charters are based on Hobbs time (actual flight time). There is a 2.5 hour minimum of flight-time each day. If you do not get your 2.5 hours because of weather or high avalanche conditions, you may roll your time to the next day within your reservation period.
  • Pre-formed groups of 4 riders
  • 3 groups of 4 per group riders will be the maximum to fly during peak season
  • 2.5 hour of flight time daily = 6 runs, 3,000 to 5,000 vertical feet each
  • For semi-private charters, Alaska Rendezvous will have the liberty of booking the other groups for your charter.
4) Private Charter
  • Pre-formed group of 8
  • 5-day minimum
  • 2.5 hour Hobbs minimum of flight time daily
  • If you are booking a private charter, the helicopter is for you and your friends during the daily 2.5-hour minimum. ARLinc will not book other groups with your party during this time.
Refunds are given only for High Avalanche conditions or weather days called by the guide or pilot. Refunds will not be given for fatigue or injury. Refunds are not given to individuals in private or semi-private groups.
Private Charters: Please refer to your private contract.
All pricing is subject to change without prior notice.
post #2 of 8
You know....Once in a lifetime trips like this are something you just gotta do twice!

So glad you siezed the opportunity and planned the trip of a lifetime!
post #3 of 8
great post, bob.
post #4 of 8
WOAH, just read all the reports. If I could only win the lotto. I dream of AK and you've just made it ten times worse.

And, I have to say, as much as I love powder, alaskan corn and the ability to get on the steep stuff sounds really, really good.
post #5 of 8
"Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So... get on your way."

-Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

Well, the Chugach will have to continue waiting for me yet a few more years.

Thank goodness there are other mountains along the way.

Thanks for the vicarious thrills.
post #6 of 8
Sounds like you had a great trip Bob. We also had the trip of a lifetime last year at ARL. Theo and Bruce run an outstanding operation.

I went at the end of April and had a little less powder and a lot of corn. Our group of 12, very strong skiers did the semi private package and paid hobbs time.
The cost came out just slightly lower than the full package, but we did a lot of flying to find the best conditions because of an unseasonable warm spell. Biggest day was 11 runs and around 40,000 feet. Skiing at 9:00PM was one of the highlights of the trip.

The terrain is unbelievable and they will take you too anything that you can handle. The last day we did a classic decent called Diamond and it was actually pushing the envelope a little more than most of us needed. Some of the easier runs are actually a lot more fun.

I would highly recommend ARL and plan on returning as often as my banker and doctor allow.
post #7 of 8
Just read these again, I'm jealous of the weather and snow Bob had while he was there. I'll be going back!
post #8 of 8
Thanks for that post. Wow.
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