AFTER SIX WEEKS ON THE ROAD in Alaska, finally heading south felt good. Yancy and I left Arctic Man wiped out and frozen from a week of below-zero days and Stouffer’s bagged stir-frys. We had planned our last stop in Haines before we left home, but had been holding our breath for the stars to actually align. We’d heard from friends about the “knife fight” at the heli-pad, but a call from fellow Matador Ambassador Will Wissman with Stellar Media confirmed they were still holding spots for us.
Haines is arguably the best place in the world for heli-skiing. I’ve been there four out of the past five spring seasons and each year somehow seem to score the best runs of my life while enjoying the relaxed small town atmosphere by the sea. Haines is a fishing town that has a certain mountain energy and vibrancy. Most of the town welcomes the heli community and acknowledges the business it brings to the harbor, which was recently cut off as a cruise ship stop during the economic recession.
I was most fired up this year to share the experience with my brother and live vicariously through his first time getting “towed in” to fragile cornices and steep spine walls. After a weeklong storm, we lucked into a code blue scenario with a relatively stable snowpack, just in time for the last and best weeks of the heli season. We lifted at 6am, and immediately it was go time as our guide, Reggie Crist, and cameraman, Will Wissman, proposed a challenging first line. The zone called Dick’s Picks demands a rider to remember exactly where he’s going because of natural blind rollovers on the face, a very common Alaskan terrain issue and one you don’t want to get wrong. I didn’t doubt for a second that Yancy would step up and slay a nasty line choice with style and confidence. He did just that with first drop, and his first ever filmed Alaskan line. The session was on!
4. Get airlifted to the slopes.
Wasatch Powder Guides runs heli-ski (or snowboard) tours directly from Snowbird or Canyons resorts, which means you can hop in a helicopter as soon as the resorts get tracked out to be shuttled to another few thousand square miles of never-been-touched dry Utah pow. WPG tours average about 30,000 vertical feet per day, rarely repeating a line for 7 hours straight, and has permits to air-drop you at the best spots (they choose terrain based on your personal ability levels and whims) in the Wasatch and Uintas.
For the non-ballers out there, cat-skiing is usually less than half the price, but is just as convenient, feels almost as fancy, and still gives you all kinds of bragging rights to your friends back home. Park City Powder Cats operates out of Thousand Peaks Ranch, where they’ve cordoned off their own “private ski resort” that’s bigger than Whistler, Vail, Mammoth, and Snowbird combined. They cover their 40,000 acres of terrain in fancy, heated, 10-seat snowcats, where you can thaw out and grab some snacks between runs. A snack-wagon to powder-filled bowls, epic tree runs through the aspens, and steep lines of unbroken powder? Absolutely worth doing at least once in your life.
Best spot on the slopes: Molly Green’s, Brighton
12601 E Big Cottonwood Canyon, Brighton, UT
Molly Green’s exists precisely for those days when you just can’t be bothered to pull your boots off before tucking into a gigantic heap of nachos.
Short of providing beer service on the chairlift, Brighton could not have made apres easier for you. Just ski, slide, tumble, or have your buddies drag you into the cozy cabin at the base of the hill for the best on-mountain place to sit for a beer, a nacho mountain, a handful of Gaz-Ex wings burning a hole into your hand, and a three-hour brag session about the backside 3 you seriously can’t believe nobody saw you spin.
Hint: Increase the difficulty level of the tricks you landed incrementally in accordance with the number of beers you drink. (I mean, it was really probably more like a backside 5, anyway.)
You’ll need a breath mint after: The Cotton Bottom Inn
2820 E 6200 S, Holladay, UT
Many an epic pow day has ended here. The Cotton Bottom is located just past the 215 on your way down from Brighton or Solitude.
Finishing your day here is akin to finishing your day in the basement bachelor pad of an old friend. Pile in through the kitchen (has anybody ever even seen the front door open?), grab some pitchers of one of the four beers on tap, and don’t bother messing with the menu. You want what everybody else is having, and your server already knows what it is — the garlic burger.
The name doesn’t lie. It’s garlicky heaven sandwiched between squishy rectangles of bread fused together with American cheese. Don’t ask for fries. You get a bag of chips and a beer with this burger.
Julian Carr, Wasatch backcountry
Ben Wheeler at Snowbird. View the rest of the photos.
Carlo Travarelli at Snowbird
Drew Stoecklein in the Wasatch backcountry