Heli in flight. ASG photo.
When you book a heli trip, your guide can make or break your day. A snowboard guide will understand how your equipment work, how you can most efficiently travel uphill, how you will need to approach traverses, where you need to drop in, and where you need to catch your runout.
Alaska Snowboard Guides founder Dave Geis discusses why it's important to hire a snowboard guide, and how his organization takes his clients to the goods.
Can you talk specifically about why it helps to have a snowboard guide leading snowboard clients?
ASG leads clients up a ridgeline in Valdez. ASG photo.
As snowboard guides, we feel that we can choose terrain and lines that are more appropriate to snowboarding: more pillows, drops, and playful, surfy terrain with lips to smash. There is always time in the day for some super steep, fall-line gnar. But during warm-up and cool-down runs, we try to avoid low-angle fall-line runs that skier guides seem to be drawn to.
Also, it is very important to put in manageable traverses that most ski guides seem unable to comprehend. These traverses are more friendly to our ski clients as well, many of whom may not be as efficient at traveling across glaciated or steep terrain and traversing as their guide.
We also feel it's important for us to go through our clients' equipment to make sure they're carrying the appropriate gear for the conditions that we'll encounter. That usually means that we'll take weight out of their pack so that they can have more fun riding with a lighter pack. We also like to check to see that their board is in proper working order. Binding failure, for example, is not an option.
We like to be sure the board is properly waxed with the correct temperature low flouro wax. This is an integral component in traveling in any mountain range. It's also important to realize that while you may be fine at your local hill on a 155 cm board, in the deep, cold snow we encounter on the mile-long glacier exits, it often requires a bit more board. We have found the Lib Tech Birdman is an amazing board for what we do and it is the first choice of our guides.
When it comes to the heli, we do a limited amount of bootpacking. Unlike ski boots, most snowboard boots are marginal at kicking steps. Our Guides ride the XV boots from Deeluxe, These are equipped with rigid Vibram soles, which allows us to kick steps where other boots cannot. If need be, we cut steps with our ice axes.
Can you talk about how this snowboard guide - snowboard client situation might lead to more effective line choices?
Jamie Lynn drops a line with ASG. Tim Peare photo.
I honestly believe a skilled snowboard guide can improve the experience for both skiers and snowboarders. Even skiers don't want to walk or push out into the flats.
Snowboarders view the mountain in a different way and travel through it differently as well; lines that ski guides pass up in favor of the most direct route to the valley floor are often filled with fun hips, rollers and spines – terrain features that are sought after by modern skiers as well.
A snowboard guide's desire to flow through the range opens new possibilities often left untouched by old-school ski guides. With a solid snowboard guide in the lead, anything is possible.
Why did you choose to start Alaska Snowboard Guides and how has it developed over the years?
The Northern Lights in Valdez. Tim Peare photo.
We started ASG because we felt the existing Alaskan heli-skiing operators' package model was outdated and did not take into consideration the one thing that effects a clients experience the most, weather.
We grew tired of watching friends and clients who came to Alaska go home frustrated because they were unable to complete the package they bought. We felt all of the companies in Valdez were selling too much skiing in a week package. Everyone has heard the story.
We decided to sell a package that can be completed in three clear days, which makes sense as we average 3.5 - 4 clear days a week. If you have great weather you can always buy more heli time, but why buy too much up front?
Dave Geis with shovel, probe–and bacon. ASG photo.
Furthermore, we wanted be able to use the entire Chugach Range with everyday clients, not just people who could afford private helicopter weeks. In short, we wanted to bring back the feelings we all had when the Valdez heli scene was young.
We wanted to do this at the highest level of professionalism, which is why we applied to join HeliSki US, the governing body that creates the highest standards for helicopter skiing operators in the USA. We are one of only two operators that meet the requirements of this organization in Valdez.
Can you talk about your permitting area and the terrain you can access in Valdez?
A glimpse at the terrain ASG accesses. Tim Peare photo.
We operate on permits from the DNR and the BLM. With 2,500 square miles of terrain surrounding our three separate bases, we have nearly unlimited access to the Chugach mountains. Having three bases and the ability to operate out of the airport as well allows us to operate throughout the entire Range with unmatched efficiently.
Can you talk about your new partnership with Ski Doo and why it's critical to have snowmachines as part of your operation in Valdez?
Jamie Lynn shooting with Volcom outside of Valdez. Tim Peare photo.
We have always had Ski-Doo snow machines as part of our rescue plan. We use them to evacuate clients from the field if the weather changes unexpectedly and we cannot fly to retrieve our groups. I began snow machine snowboarding in Tahoe in 1998, then drove our machines up to Valdez in 2001.
After years of flying over the mountains, I realized the potential access that snow machine could provide. Snow machines are a great way to approach the giant mountains of the Chugach. In fact, you can do some great snowboarding and skiing directly off of them in a number of locations.
That said, they will not take you to the top of the big lines that Valdez is famous for. Usually after riding deep into the range on the Ski-Doo, you have to bootpack, often straight up your line. Verts, a compact plastic snowshoe, is the only way to go.
Having a guide in these situations is priceless, as your exposure time while hiking these lines is prolonged, to say the least. Everyone thinks they will get tons of lines in on a snow machine, the reality is that it's tons of work and you really don't snowboard or ski as much as you think you will. Helicopters will always be the preferred access too of these giant mountains.