In April 1996 my father visited Valdez, AK and returned with crisp photos of his tracks down 5,000 foot couloirs among the Chugach peaks, and stories of Doug Coombs' heli-skiing antics. Almost exactly twenty years later, I am sitting 50 miles south along the Chugach mountains at the Reluctant Fisherman Bar in Cordoba, AK. But watching the fishing fleet in the harbor in front of me prepare to go out as the rain comes down for the third day definitely put a dampener on my trip to Points North Heli-Adventures.
I was warned in advance that a week in the Chugach could often result in only a day or two of skiing, but I thought my luck would hold out since my trip to Bella Coola Heli Sports in March 2015 was so amazing - fresh snow, cool temps, clear skies and a heli at our beck and call. Sadly this year, warm temperatures and sun had melted a lot of snow, and rain had done away with more. Each Spring, the owners of Points North, Kevin and Jessica Quinn, take over a little hotel on Nelson Bay and turn it into the Points North base camp. Its basically a big family lodge - everyone plays boardgames together, take anything they want from the kitchen, and there is a big friendly husky wandering around. Even better, each morning, there are incredible views of the mountains and wildlife in every direction.
While there are a variety of great heli-ski operations in Valdez, AK, I chose to go to Points North Heli-Adventures in Cordoba, AK because of its relative isolation, which meant that there would not be other operations buzzing around us. So rather than end up in a parking lot off of the highway on Thomson Pass just outside of Valdez, we had our own heli-pad right outside the hotel.
After some gray days, the skies opened, and our guide, Andrew Eisenstark, got us to into the heli. Nothing beats a helicopter waiting right outside your room. Its a beautiful ride up the Nelson Bay and onto the Cordoba Glacier. In 10 minutes you go from lounging in the base lodge to standing on top of a 5,000 ft line in full winder conditions. Between the weather and the snow conditions, we were a bit limited in what we could ski, but we still got to ski 3-4 great zones. Hats off to the Points North pilots who brought us into difficult landing zones even in low light conditions. It lead to some amazing steep skiing - make sure to watch for your sluff on your way down these peaks.
The only downside of Points North (and a few other popular operations) is that they put four groups to a heli. That means it takes about an hour and a half to get all the groups out into the mountains or back into the lodge. It also makes moving around the mountains a little slower. I would recommend making sure that you will have three groups to a heli max wherever you go. But overall, its Points North great place to ski.
After a huge last dinner, and a bondfire under the stars, our trip came to a successful end. We didn't get the conditions we had hoped for, but that leaves more for next time. For 2017 I am planning a trip back to Alaska to visit Juno and the Southern Chilkats.