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!
ARCTIC MAN was officially a go when I got a voicemail from Anchorage sled driver Spike Laskey at 6am. His message reassured us that all we needed to do was pull the trigger: “Hey this is Spike…I’m on my out there right now, not sure if I’ll have service, but yeah I’ll toss you a rope and tow you up a fucking hill if you want…” Click. I remembered Nate Holland’s shit-eating grin a while back when he told me that he knew just the driver for me.
Wyatt and I had done our time on Thompson Pass and were ready to move on. Although it was crushing snow in the parking lot and a full reset was probable, we wanted new scenery and stimulation, plus Nate and old pal Jayson Hale had guaranteed it wouldn’t be hard to find amazing snowboarding terrain in the Hoodoo Mountains. A quick stop in Glennallen for some Tok Thai and fireworks, and we were set for another week off the grid in eastern Alaska.
Arctic Man is held every year just outside Summit Lake, more or less in the middle of nowhere, to the northeast of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Now in its 28th year, the Tesoro Arctic Man Classic is a competitive backcountry race comprising a few dozen teams of skier/snowmachiner and snowboarder/snowmachiner. The skier begins at “The Tip,” with a summit elevation of 5,800 and a vertical drop of 1,700 feet in less than two miles to the bottom of a narrow canyon — riders go from zero to fast in a hurry. When the slope levels out, the snowmobiler meets the skier, on the go, with a tow rope and pulls the skier 2 1/4 miles uphill at speeds of up to 86mph. The skier and the snowmobile then separate, sending the skier over the “First Aid” jump and down another 1,200ft pitch to the finish line. Courage, training, and a well-tuned stock 600rpm sled are essential elements for a successful team.
HITTING THE OPEN ROAD, loaded to the gills with gear, plans to live in a truck camper for two months — my brother and I knew this was a road trip of epic proportions that we didn’t want to let pass by, so we pulled the trigger and headed north to Alaska, with hopes of extending our winter as spring approached at home in Sun Valley, Idaho.
After finally committing to the trip, Yancy and I spent a week packing all the winter camping gear we could think of. We carefully put together a quiver of split boards, pow surfers, approach skis, and high-powered snowmobiles to prepare for any terrain conditions. Feeling equipped to tackle the Powder Highway, we blazed into Canada and pointed it towards Revelstoke, BC and the Monashee Mountains.