Ultimate Adventures: Peak Experience

  • Jackie Caradonio

The Adventure › A 10-day heli-skiing excursion in Alaska’s Western Chugach Mountains.

The Outfitter › Launched in 1997, Chugach Powder Guides is the largest heli-ski operator in Alaska. Today the company lays exclusive claim to some 750,000 acres of soaring peaks, towering ramps, consistent couloirs, and steep spine lines in the south-central region’s Western Chugach Mountains. “Heli-skiing in Alaska is always grand in scale and pitch, but what is unique about south-central Alaska is the variety of terrain and climate that we get,” says Tait Wardlaw, the outfitter’s general manager. “Because of this variation, we are skiing long after everyone else has had to stop and call it a day.”

The Itinerary › The Western Chugach Mountains’ varied terrain calls for a dynamic itinerary that spans three distinct regions: the Girdwood Zone, with 6,000-foot peaks and long spine lines; the Seward Zone, defined by steep couloirs and tree skiing at lower elevations; and the Knik Zone, home to north-facing ramps and glacier runs that are rarely skied. “Each coastal boundary offers its own unique terrain features, snow conditions, and skiing experience,” Wardlaw says. “In these three zones, you can find an almost infinite number of terrain options and snow possibilities.”

Skiers begin with four days in the Girdwood Zone, dropping down from towering peaks into such sustained descents as Isthmus (a 3,000-foot, 50-degree run) and Peak 6500. Guests then test their skills on the 3,000- and 4,000-foot couloirs of the southern coast’s Seward Zone for three days before moving on to the northern Knik Zone, where chances of first-time descents are the greatest. “There are so many runs that we still haven’t named yet in both the north and south,” Wardlaw says. “Every other run could easily be a first descent and therefore something that the skiers could name.”

Between skiing excursions, guests stay at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, where amenities include a spa, a swimming pool, a fitness center, and four restaurants. In addition to heli-skiing, the lodge is a convenient base for such activities as snowcat skiing, Nordic skiing, and glacier trekking.

The Extreme › The long spine lines of Girdwood’s Velvet Curtain have been the setting of countless ski movies for good reason. “When you are at the top looking down, your heart is pounding, and you know that you are doing something that is a challenge for any skier,” Wardlaw says. “But we can tailor it to any level, so it is a true big-mountain challenge with almost no consequences.”

The Price › From $10,720 per person for a party of 12.

Chugach Powder Guides, 907.783.4354, www.chugachpowderguides.com