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Author Topic: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK  (Read 3581 times)
Ritalin Kid
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March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« on: 03/30/09, 07:34 PM »

Writing from the Juneau airport on my way home. My wife and I spent the last week at Alaska Heliskiing in Haines Alaska. We missed the great weather Haines had in Feb and early March, but still managed to get in three ski days (2 Heli/1 Cat).  The heli days were all time.  For those of you who havn't skied AK...I can't tell you how big it is, and how you have to experience it for yourself. Sean Dog and Co. run a top notch operation that allows you to access the goods in the safest way possible. The pow was super blower and super deep.  Dispite the good times, we also experienced the absolute bordom of down days, and I took a very scary ride.   In fact, after this slide (pics below) I have decided I am going to buy an ABS pack for next year.  I am very lucky to be writing this trip report, but if I can turn this experience into a positive, I would encourage you all to buy an ABS pack to.  I had an AvaLung and couldnt get it in my mouth as I went into the washing machine.  At the end of the slide I ended up on top (thanks to the big man upstairs).  An experience like this will mess with your head, but I assure you I will be back on the horse and will heli ski in Haines again.

Below are some pics from trip.  You can find the rest of my photos at www.flickr.com/kylecressman.     


* AK_HELI.jpg (64.24 KB, 1000x750 - viewed 1427 times.)
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Ritalin Kid
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #1 on: 03/30/09, 07:35 PM »

Fun Lines


* Bridget_Pillow.jpg (148.36 KB, 1000x665 - viewed 1430 times.)

* Kyle_Pillow.jpg (121.5 KB, 1000x665 - viewed 1403 times.)

* Kyle_Cliff.jpg (72.8 KB, 1000x707 - viewed 1414 times.)
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Ritalin Kid
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #2 on: 03/30/09, 07:37 PM »

Skiing Pow... Due to safe zones it was really hard to take lots of powder pics


* Bridget_Warming_Up.jpg (58.73 KB, 1000x444 - viewed 1407 times.)

* Bridget_coming_around_the_corner.jpg (65.89 KB, 946x768 - viewed 1403 times.)

* Kyle_Rollin_Over.jpg (52.34 KB, 1000x592 - viewed 1394 times.)
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Ritalin Kid
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #3 on: 03/30/09, 07:39 PM »

Pics of the slide..scar.  You can sorta see me in on the bench in shot #2.


* Avi_1.jpg (65.67 KB, 1000x750 - viewed 1418 times.)

* Avi_2.jpg (104.94 KB, 1000x750 - viewed 1402 times.)
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Ritalin Kid
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #4 on: 03/30/09, 07:41 PM »

Big peaks...amazing...absolutly amazing...


* Peak_TAY.jpg (73.74 KB, 1000x750 - viewed 1403 times.)

* Peak_TAY_2.jpg (97.65 KB, 1000x750 - viewed 1400 times.)

* Guide_Scoping.jpg (90.89 KB, 1000x665 - viewed 1396 times.)
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jhamaker
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #5 on: 03/30/09, 08:51 PM »

(edited)

I spent some time in H.S. in Haines.    I'm amazed anyone is runnig a Heli Svc. there.  The terraine is to die for, but coastal mountain snow is usualy so heavy, and then the run-outs are all in the bays.

I knew of some folks who used to take a boat over and go skiing.  The Heli thinng is new.  Does the Heli svc have a website?
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Joedabaker
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #6 on: 03/30/09, 09:08 PM »

Great pictures and trip, gotta love those AK mountains!

Sean Dog and Co. run a top notch operation that allows you to access the goods in the safest way possible...
Before I open my check book up to Sean Dog's safe operation...So far it looks like they had a near death experience on their hands. What do they tell you before you access the terrain? Do they let you select your runs or guide you down in stages? That pitch that slid has a pretty huge rollover. What did they tell you about that terrain/slope BEFORE you skied down, set off the avy and entrained yourself in the slide?
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Ritalin Kid
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #7 on: 03/31/09, 09:17 AM »

The company I went with was Alaska Heli Skiing (http://www.alaskaheliskiing.com/).  I would absolutly recomend them. SEABA also operates out of Haines and offers a little different experience.  We hooked up with them on a down day to get some rides in thier Cat.  Sean Dog is talking about possibly getting a Cat next year for down days to, which would be awesome as it get's boring up there.

I don't think you can judge the saftey of an operation based upon one avalanche.  When you Heli, you ski in avalanche terrain, you have to know that going in...our guide described the potential of the slide right before it happened.  They know these mountain well, not just where things like roll overs are, but where rock facets grow under the snowpack (as in this case). In Alaska the mountians are too big to avoid roll overs.  Sean Dog has never lost someone in all his years of operating the company. 

If anyone is thinking about going next year send me a PM I can give you details on how to line up the trip with the best accomodations and some logistics ideas that I learned from the trip.
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Joedabaker
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #8 on: 03/31/09, 06:38 PM »


I don't think you can judge the saftey of an operation based upon one avalanche.  When you Heli, you ski in avalanche terrain, you have to know that going in..

I agree with all that. It's part of the excitement of the AK experience.
I was just curious as a potential customer what their protocol is for every run. That is why I ask, What do they tell you before you access the terrain? Do they do a little speech about their experiences on each run? Do they give you a long leash, just say see ya at the copter? Do they let you select your runs or guide you down their runs in stages? Just trying to get a feel for the operations methodology.

...our guide described the potential of the slide right before it happened.  They know these mountain well, not just where things like roll overs are, but where rock facets grow under the snowpack (as in this case).
Also, please I need to learn, if you feel inclined to turn this experience into a positive and share, maybe we can all learn from sharing your experience that lead to this heuristic trap. Maybe I can save money not buying the ABS bag and learn to avoid the problem instead. If your guide described the potential for a slide in that zone. What was it that made it alluring to ski that line even though the guide described the potential that it may slide?

Thanks for your input,


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Ritalin Kid
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #9 on: 03/31/09, 10:11 PM »

These are great questions and I agree I hope others can learn from my experience to insure safe outcomes in the future.

The guides at AK Heli outline the run, key features, and potential dangers before each run.  They also describe where is ok and where is not ok to ski.  They ski first and share thier experience and the current conditions after skiing the run over the radio.  They may modify thier prior instruction based upon what they saw when skiing down.

For the most part they pick the runs and the lines.  I made a couple requests to ski different lines and I was rejected, but I know that sometimes they will take your requests conditions permitting.  Some runs we skied top to bottom and some we skied in stages. It really depends on whether there are safe places to stop along the way and the fitness level of the skiers.  Net-Net: they give you a leash, but it's pretty short. 

I think there are different philosophies when it comes to avoiding potential slides.  Clearly there are exposures and lines that shouldn't be skied and lets hope we're all smart enough to avoid these.... there are some lines that are also super safe and you'll always be ok, but I believe that 80% of the lines that people ski fall somewhere in the middle. We evaluated slide potential as risky on many lines that didn't even sluff.  My feeling based upon my experience is...the risk of a "killer" avalanche even on low risk lines warants the right equipment.  I think it's likly that you and others on this board are taking risks that also warant this investment.  I thought the AvaLung would work and I'd be able to get it and keep it in my mouth....I didn't and I coudn't.  The reason I am here is because I ended up on top at the end of the slide.  If I would have been barried there is no way the group would have found me in time.  Please keep the questions/concerns comming. I want to be as safe as possible in the future and I know I can learn from your experiences as well.
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whitethunder
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #10 on: 04/01/09, 10:53 AM »

Glad you're alive and well.  Those are some terriffic pictures.  You're very fortunate to have experienced such amazing skiing.

Thing I've noticed about the AvaLung is that there's no way you can unzip the pocket and stick it in your mouth in time.  That's why I always ski with the pocket unzipped and the mouthpiece hanging out (sometimes it whistles annoyingly, but oh well....). 
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Scotsman
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #11 on: 04/01/09, 11:31 AM »

Glad you are OK and thanks for the amazing pictures.
I ski with an avalung Pack and deploy my avalung( unzip it from the sleeve and position it below my chin) on runs in Avy terrain or where tree wells are a danger.
I have actually put it in my mouth when doing a ski cut or if skiing something at the start of the run and spat it out when I'm past the rollover. I am not convinced I could hold onto it in a serious avalanche although others have.

I like the avalung for possible tree well immersions as I think I could always get it into my mouth even if inverted in tree well and therefore give me more time to figure out how to get my skis off and out of it.
I am convinced the ABS packs are real life-savers but am waiting for the USA manufactures to solve the transportation issues.

I only have two experiences with heli-skiing , one of them in the USA with North Cascades Hrli-Skiing. The guides always explained the run in advance and where they didn't want you to go or where they wanted you to stop and skied the run first and there was always a tail guide at top.This to me was important as if something had happened, the tail guide could always ski dwon and start the search rather than relying on the lead guide to hike back up.

RK, was there a tail guide waiting at the top of the run on your trip?


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Ritalin Kid
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #12 on: 04/01/09, 12:00 PM »

In terms of the AvaLung...I always ski with it unzipped and keep as close to my mouth as possible.  I don't ski with it in my mouth, although until I get my airbag I am going to try...I know some people the actually do it. 

They don't always ski with a tail guide - it depends on the group size, but in this situation we did have one.  He did a great job of assessing the situation and organizing a pick up to keep others from skiing the slope.  If there was going to be a search and we didnt have a tail guide I think they could have picked up our lead guide in the heli and had him on the debris in less than 10 min.

The other thing to note about this example is...I was the 3rd person to ski.  Another good reminder to be careful even after you ski cut and after others have skied the slope.

Lastly,  I appriciate the encouragement.  How many times have we all said "that was the best run of my life?"  I plan on saying this many more times and want to make sure I make the right decisions and investments to do that.
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CookieMonster
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #13 on: 04/01/09, 04:32 PM »

Preserving risk is an operational goal of most mechanized skiing operations. The idea is to offer a more thrilling experience than lift-assisted skiing without taking unreasonable risks. The idea of "unreasonable" is wrapped up in guiding philosophy ( it is unacceptable to descend a ski run if there is a significant chance of triggering a > 2 avalanche ) and our individual ideas about risk ( personal risk acceptance level ).

Another important component of guiding philosophy is individual responsibility. A guided party is lead by the guide but all the members are expected to participate in decision-making and contribute to the safety of the party, help with rescues, etc. A guide doesn't force a client to ski a dangerous run, and as most people might expect, pressure to descend high risk ski runs always comes from the client.
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rippy
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #14 on: 04/03/09, 11:48 AM »

Glad the outcome was so favorable and some really great skiing by the pic's. I couldn't help notice the roll-over and the angularity where it ripped loose looks like a perfect 35. Nasty terrain trap under it too.  Just an opinion, not a criticism but I think a Guide who didn't forwarn a client about that aspect either didn't know that terrain or had built some false confidence in the conditions. As said, glad you got out of it intact and what a spectacular trip! Now I know where in the world I want to be next year when my knee will be working again.  : )
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Joedabaker
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Re: March 23-30, 2009, Alaska Heli Skiing, Haines, AK
« Reply #15 on: 04/05/09, 08:12 AM »

Thanks RK for the detailed information on how they run the operations. That sounds pretty good, the terrain looked so great in your pictures it would be really fun to hit up someday and it's good to have some inside info on their operation.

Yesterday I skied with a guy who grew up in that area and skied Eagle Crest and he highly recommends that area. Maybe for down time? Not sure of access between the two, didn't ask? He has friends who started flying copters and skiing up there many years ago.

Just looking at the photo of the slide, I had assumed you were the skier that hit the sweet spot to trigger the big one, as the other skiers in the photo seemed to ski it just fine and dodge the bullet. Pretty amazing to end up on the top of that one given the size. I would take surviving that to winning the lottery.
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