Friday, April 24, 2009

Free-Riding Valdez Part III

Team douche had just "broken" their guide and they were quite pleased with themselves.  It appeared these high rollers were going to trump us on the 3 PM bird that we were penciled in on.  VHG has a shortage of guides; injuries has plagued their season.  There would be a copter for us, but no guide.  Damn.  The Douche Brigade flew off into the distance, but hope springs eternal.  The Powderwhores were calling it a day and their guide was up for some more schussing.  

We filled out the necessary paperwork, put on our rental gaper harnesses, and weighed in.  The pilot needs to know everyone's "geared up" weight including pack and skis.  I had never been on a fully guided trip before.  It was a luxury that I highly recommend.  Our guide, Dylan, is a young gun from Utah that enjoys skiing the same type of terrain we enjoy.  He has some medical certs, an avi II, and some experience with Exum Utah.  Right place at the right time was his explanation. 

The bird came in, the guide loaded our skis and packs, we climbed in, and then up.  Most of you know that I've spent considerable time working with helicopters during my lift installation days.  Exhibit A.  Working with these machines seems bad-ass (it is), but is also dirty, dusty, exhausting, scary, loud, and stressful.  Hurry!  Go!  Faster!  I had never been inside one and today was the day for the relaxing heli experience I had always wanted.  
Up.  The lower elevation terrain was isothermic snow, willows, willows, willows, and willows.  This shit is real!  I'm on a A-star Eurocopter B2.  I'm gonna sail this boat to the moon somehow!  Everybody look at me.  The mountains are big and steep.  From the heli they are all around you, to the left, right, front, back, and even above you.  Looking out the "sun roof"  you have to crane your neck to see the sky.  "Do you guys want a warm up run?"  "No."  "Are you sure?"  "Yes." "What do you want to ski?"  "We want to ski whatever you would want to ski."  "Well, I'd be negligent as a guide if I didn't see you skied first."  I was thinking the Dylan and Lars should pull out the Sickbird buckles.  5 minutes and 3500 vert later we were at the Carrot Ramp and landing on a small col at the top of a 45 degree, 1000', 30' wide chute.  Perfect... for me.  The guide ski cut and skied it.  I skied it: creamy, consistent super-hero snow.  From the bottom I got a good view of the venue.  There are about 4 shots similar to what I had just skied separated by cliffs, spines, pillows, straight-runs, and rock.  Perfect... for them.  Enter the billy goats.  Dylan, Lars, and Garret are all skiing A+ style and this is the terrain they wanted.  They sent it.  Double drops.  Big airs.  Big sloughs, real big.  Fun transitions.  We huddled at the bottom of the cirque.  We had a 2000' vertical ski ahead of us.  20 degree creamy pow.  Not so much adrenaline but fun.  The copter came in.  Windy as hell, but expected.  I briefly flashed back to the CTEC days.  Here comes that wind, get ready to move.  Go!  Hurry!  Fortunately I realized we were on a fully guided trip.  I watched the guide load my skis and gear, and than I leisurely boarded the bird fully relaxed.  This is the way to go.
"Where to now?"  "Same place."  "Alright."  I followed Garrett's line from his first run.  The top half of it anyway.  A the midway point I stayed fall line where Garrett's tracks angled toward a 40 footer.  Nice fast Super G turns.  Those guys had unfinished business.  Dylan came first.  Nice send.  He finished his run was some high speed squiggles before stopping.  That's always a sign that he is happy with the run.  Dylan grabbed the guides radio and guided Lars and Garret in.  Big lines.  Greased.  Everyone was pumped.  The snow was welded to the slope.  There was no need to rush.  There were no judges watching fluidity.  Everyone was able to ski their line and if they got turned around, they stopped and we'd point out their line via radio.  The guide was happy.  Being a heli guide sounds epic (it is), but there are downsides.  Shitty skiers, bruised egos, kissing ass.  There were none of those issues today.  
"Where to now?"  "Higher."  "We want the big vert."  The clouds were starting to come in.  The big objective was obscured.   They flew us around.  Sussing.  We came through a notch hot in a bank turn.  50 degree flutes on one side, 50 degree flutes on the other.  Sick.  The weather forced us back to the Carrot Ramp but the pilot was able to nose in further down the ridge.  More of the same: a 45 degree chute for me, gnar for them.  The guide let me go first.  I leaned into the slope and made a big airplane turn off a small wind lip into a fresh Valdez couloir.   A good run.  The others sent theirs.  Big agressive lines were skied like the Boyz.  Lars came down with a huge grin on his face, literally giggling. That's a good indicator.  We met the copter at the LZ (landing zone, duh).  The pilot gave us a show.  Zero G banks.  Up down.  Buzz the round.  Through the cut, over the power lines, back down to the road, zero G, and land.  
Heli skiing will make you thirsty.  Gentleman Jack mosied into the parking lot and down my throat.  So did the Alaskan Summer Ale.  Dylan shot the shart with the Powderwhores, we squared up with the guide and the outfit.  I was anxious to get to Matt's place at 46 mile so I could put the Jeep in park and get my drink on for real.  Soon enough we were setting up sleeping gear in his yoga studio.  The wood stove was stubborn, but Dylan brought it to life.  We slugged beers and relived the day.  Our thoughts turned to food.  Garrett had brought some Dall Sheep and Moose steaks.  Matt had some local potatoes and root veggies from his garden/green house.  The Alaskan Amber completed a truly Alaskan meal.  We walked the 15 minutes to the bar, but kids were kicked.  It was time for sleep.

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