This season, the skiing and snowboarding in Girdwood, Alaska has been so great there are going to be legends about it. We’ve seen 746 inches since October 1 and the snow quality has been ridiculously good with stability that has enabled us to get into areas that rarely see tracks. Woohoo! Check out this video from this weeks guest host, World Freeski Champion, Jess McMillan!
The incredible conditions here continue. Check out this video from snowcat skiing a couple of days ago.
Settling into the Kashmir valley of Gulmarg, I anticipate the powder frenzy ahead. With a large group of Ex-pat ski bums coming from all over the world, the fresh tracks are harder and harder to find. Brian Newman and Gulmarg Ski Patrol have installed an instrumental avalanche control program to keep the slopes of Gulmarg safe. However, one can imagine the difficulties of obtaining explosives and being able to implement this program one 4 miles from the Line of Control between the highly politically fragile area between India and Pakistan.
While the Ski Patrol waits for explosives thus the upper phase of the gondola opening, me and my co-guides explore the lower elevation trees and some touring options below town. We find pillow lines of fresh snow atop downed trees and rock bands. Excellent skiing quality given the refresh of snow each evening. Despite the top ups every evening, we still feel very skeptical of the stability in the alpine regions but given the terrain we have plenty of options. Each night, we return to our cozy rooms heated with the wood fired bukari’s and dinners that please the palette.
On my fourth day of skiing at altitude, me and my crew decide to take a rest day. As I settle into a good book and a mellow afternoon, I am startled by shaking windows and a bellowing that rocks the Gulmarg valley. I tune into the Ski Patrol radio and quickly they are through most of the their bomb routes and quickly anticipate opening the upper phase of the Gondola. A 3000 ft pitch of open bowls and keep deep powder. I instantly dress up, run out the door and get up the mountain to join the other powder frothers. The energy is at a fever with a stoked international group of riders. Game on in Gulmarg.
Two days later, we still find fresh tracks in the controlled bowls of the ski area, but decide to tour to the summit of Mt. Apharwat to take in the views of the Himalayas with Nanga Parbat towering over the Kashmir valley (8th highest mountain in the world). We find an isolated bowl with fresh tracks in all direction. We are humbled by the tower mountains all around us and find solace in the silence that they provide us.
A large storm is on the horizon which is what we all look forward to. All in all, a perfect experience thus far……
It’s definitely “one of those years” here in Alaska. As February approaches and the heli season gets closer (we start in AK on February 11). We’ve been having the best early season we can recall. The snow has been deep, dry and plentiful. The snowcat skiing has been “all time”. As always, our first week of the heli season is discounted. Right now, we’re holding the goods. It’s time to make a February powder plan and get up to AK. We are still able to offer 20% off on Alaska Airlines for those who book their travel before January 31.
Check out these great photos of recent snowcat skiing from guide, Henry Munter.
Sent in by Tyler Ferris of Sun Valley Heli Ski:
Right now, Sun Valley Helicopter Ski Guides can boast the best heli-skiing this side of Canada.
While other operations in the lower 48 are waiting for another storm or two to start up, SVHS was blessed with a couple of big ones at the end of 2011. The snowfall in our remote terrain doubled from 2 to 4.5 feet. On our first day of operation on January 6, stability was rated “fair” and skiing was rated “good” to “very good”. Groups skied several extra runs.
It may look thin on Sun Valley’s Balm Mountain web cams, but as often happens the jet stream came straight from the west and dropped two times the snow in the Smoky Mountains, the hidden gem of SVHS.
Ok, how can SVHS offer great skiing with only 4.5 feet? The secret is the terrain. Runs are typically long and consistent with few cliffs or dramatic breaks. There are open slopes and great glades of trees. Every aspect has a skiable line.
In the heart of this skiers paradise is the Idaho Smoky Mountain Lodge. Right now you can have a private “Canadian Style” heli ski experience right here in the US. Check out the footage from our opening weekend below!
The Alaska snow just keeps falling and it’s coming in light and dry. As a result, early season snowcat skiing and snowboarding has been nothing short of phenomenal. Our snowcats are running and you should be on one. Check out this video from two days ago by guest Kevan Dee. Right now, we are holding the best snow in the country. Come celebrate the goodness!
As all of the snow on the planet seems to be falling in Alaska and Europe right now, it’s great timing to see the latest episode of Salomon Freeski TV featuring the Glacier Express. This is such a cool way to explore the European ski experience.
The Glacier Express is Switzerland’s most famous train route, running from the foot of the Matterhorn in Zermatt to the playgrounds of European royalty in St. Moritz. Between, it passes through a dozen of Europe’s “little areas that rock.” The train works it’s way through the Alps’ finest terrain, allowing passengers to hop off in prime spots to explore gems like Andermatt, Arosa, and eventually the famous endpoint, St. Moritz.
You can join us and Epic Europe ski guru Jack Shaw on the Glacier Express this season. Combining this kind of access with the right guides and the local knowledge to find the secret stashes is really one of the best ways to tour and ski Europe. Check out Salomon Freeski TV below and enjoy!
With the CPG snowcat area opening on Saturday, December 24, Henry Munter, Rob Durnell, Andy Ballou and the rest of the crew have been busily preparing to make our current gift of deep powder available to the public. From the footage Henry took yesterday, it looks like things are really shaping up nicely. The crew spent some serious hours in the area this fall with chainsaws improving the glades and making the tree runs better than they’ve ever been. You know what they say about all work and no play. Check out “Play Time” for Henry and the crew below. The early season conditions in Alaska are “All Time” right now. Snowcat starts this week and heli skiing begins February 12. There is still space in the early weeks and the first week of heli is discounted. Time to get some POW!
We meet below the tram at the cafe, frustrated and over-caffeinated. We are hemorrhaging cash, craving adventure and skiable snow, and trying to salvage a precious ski vacation. Give up or get creative?
Make a few calls and hear that the snow and weather is better to the west, in Sun Valley. Call over to Sun Valley Heli Ski to check on availability and snow conditions. Reports favorable.
Call to Independent Jets in Teton Village to check on availability and pricing for a King Air… response favorable (and surprisingly affordable). Aircraft is available and ready to go.
Our crew decides to go for it, and calls Sun Valley Heli Ski again. They warm up the heli, rally the troops, and make arrangements. We go to our rooms and suit up for skiing, slipping a toothbrush into our pockets.
King Air C90 wheels up from Jackson Hole. Weird wearing ski boots on an airplane… we’ve got skis stacked in the aisle.
Wheels down in Sun Valley. Met on the tarmac at Hailey Airport by the Sun Valley Heli Ski helicopter.
Hop in the heli, and we are off…
Adrenaline levels return…
Happiness returns, stoke is high, grumpiness gone.
Land at the remote Smoky Mountain Lodge. Pure backcountry luxury!
Welcomed by the lodge team, Dire Straits, and PBR.
Followed by steaks, birthday cake, and shenanigans.
Breakfast is on the table. Wake up!! A nice start to the day…
Warm up the heli – we are going skiing again!
10am – 2:30pm
Fly the heli back to Sun Valley Airport, transfer gear from the ship to the plane, and fly back to Jackson for our regular flights home.
Many thanks to the terrific team from Sun Valley Heli Ski for pulling this off on about an hours’ notice. It was an epic trip, requiring an amazing display of spontaneity, logistics, and hospitality. We all sat on the plane home incredulous that you pulled it off, so happy that we grabbed life by the horns and went for it…
MAKE THE CALL!
Ethan, John, Nick, and Craig