Heli-Ski Alaska

Jan 1, 2006
Outside Magazine
Go for It

Hit the Chugach's steep and very deep in style with Dean Cummings H2O Heli-Guides, which will drop you up top six times a day. One week, $5,335; 800-578-4354, www.h2oguides.com

Alaska's Chugach Mountains

Powder Day: Digging Deep in Alaska's Chugach Mountains

I FIRST SKIED Alaska's Chugach Mountains in 1991, and I was so smitten with the snow that I started a guiding company there in 1994. The combination of wet storms coming off the ocean followed by dry cold spells makes the snow this great velvety carpet that sticks to 45-degree pitches several thousand vertical feet long. Maybe you've skied or boarded the Rockies, the Alps, Canada, or even South America. But to really go after it, you've got to ski Alaska. The verticals are so big, the snow so amazing, you'll ski things you never thought you could. Everyone remembers every single run. Go during the eight-week window from around March 1 to April 25, and by the time you're home you'll have descended at least 100,000 vertical feet.

SKILLS & TIPS: You needn't be a pro skier to handle the big Alaskan terrain, but you'll need to be able to ski a black-diamond run—in control, in all conditions—without stopping for at least 1,000 vertical feet, and to have spent 20 to 30 days skiing before you go. When you ski powder this steep, the snow's going to move downhill, and it can knock you over. (We call it getting "Chugached.") Avoid these troublesome sloughs by veering left or right off the fall line so you're not directly underneath your turns. And you've got to ski light on your edges and not miss a pole plant. Each plant helps you exaggerate the up and down—"the float and the sting," as I like to say. Tight slalom turns will wear you out halfway down your first run. To build your technique, seek out a blue groomer at your home mountain and carve fast giant-slalom turns. The pitch and longer turns mean you've got to learn to ski 25 miles per hour, instead of ten. Head off-piste and try to maintain the same form.

TRAINING: Skiing 4,000 vertical feet in one run will make your thighs scream. The stronger they are, the better. Prepare by spending Mondays and Thursdays doing six one-minute wall sits (keeping your knees bent at 110 degrees is fine), resting two minutes between each. Add enough time every week to hold each for four minutes by the time of your trip. Those same days, swim laps for 30 minutes, go climbing for a couple of hours, or do an hourlong, six-exercise upper-body-and-core weight workout. Tuesdays and Fridays, trail-run 30 minutes for impact training. Skiing is anaerobic, so one session should include minute-long high-intensity intervals, with two minutes of rest between each. End both sessions with ten minutes of various stomach crunches: sit-ups, bicycle kicks, and leg lifts. Wednesdays and Saturdays are for biking—preferably mountain biking, since it's reactive, like skiing, and strengthens knee muscles. One of these sessions should be at least one hour, complete with five-minute intervals of hard charging; the other should be two to four hours, to build your endurance. Do ten minutes of light, full-body stretching before and after every workout. Your hamstrings are the most important muscles for skiing, so spend the first and last two minutes of each stretching session focusing on them.
—As told to Ryan Brandt