Valdez, Alaska: April 14-19, 2024

ChrisC

Well-known member
This was my third visit to Valdez in mid-April and the best yet with snow and conditions. Previously, I skied Valdez:
  • 2015: Valdez - H20 Guides (skied 1 out of 2 days - 50% , Black Ops Heli (2.25 out of 4 - 55%+). There was about 50" of snow during the period. Received about a 50% refund via required insurance.
  • 2016: Girdwood - Alyeska (1 day), Chugach Powder Guides (1 day), Valdez - Black Ops Heli (skied 4 out of 5 days - 80%). About 10" of snow during the period. We went slightly over Heli Hours due to great weather, but they comped us due to lodging arrangements. 80% ski days is way above average!
This trip was phenomenal! Valdez received 30-40" on from a Friday/Saturday, April 12/13, then went almost bluebird for the rest of the week - with only one slightly cloudy day (one no-fly morning). We skied with Valdez Heli Guides based out of the Tsaina Lodge. Instead of a standard full-week package, we only booked 5 days (since its end of season), but did go over our Heli Hour allotment due to 100% skiable days. Highly, highly unusual!

A brief summary of Alaska Heli Operations in Girdwood/Valdez:
  • Chugach Powder Guides - OK for one day. They take all the multi-day heli groups out before you, sometimes snowier or better weather destinations. Days skiers go out last to more local terrain.
  • H2O Guides - Closed. You can read about the legendary Valdez pioneer HERE
  • Black Ops Valdez - Excellent. They bought a heli guide operation and constructed a lodge just outside Valdez. Their guides are original Valdez pioneers and have skied many first descents - superb! The ratio was 3 skiers to 2 Guides (Lead and Tail Trainee). Their helipad is only 10 minutes up the road, so it is easy to take advantage of a sun break. The operation used to be cheaper, but they are now trying to only accept full weeks. Review HERE
  • Valdez Heli Guides. Directly on Thompson Pass based at the historic restored TsainaLodge. The lodge is excellent but small and incredibly expensive during heli season. Most skiers will stay down in Valdez and commute up everyday 30-40 minutes. However, this provides access to the backside of Chugach, which can remain sunny.

As stated, we had incredible luck with weather and snow conditions in Valdez - 100% fly week is almost unheard of in the Chugach. However, April is an optimal time to visit since your daylight hours are off the chart. It's easy to start at 2/3 pm and almost get a full day of heli-skiing. For example, daylight hours in Valdez in mid-April are 6:30 am to 9 pm. Also, the terrain is unlimited! One day, we were almost 50 miles deep into the Chugach - unreal! Stability improved over the week so that we could tackle steeper lines and bigger mountains. Also, the guide starts to have confidence in your abilities and feels comfortable taking you on the steeper stuff.

Valdez Terrain
A set of mountains in the Chugach rise above the others, and they are known as the Big Five:
Article describing each (pictures lost): FreeSkier Article HERE
  1. SPHINX
  2. PONTOON
  3. METEORITE
  4. DIMOND
  5. TUSK
Some of these are just off-limits to only true extreme skiers with heavy planning, and some are accessible to mere mortals. I have skied:
  • Dimond - This year, 2024, with Valdez Heli Guides. It's a 6000 vertical mountain in the backyard of the Tsaina Lodge on Thompson Pass
  • Meteorite - Skied in 2016 with Black Ops. It's less steep than these photos. HERE
  • Tusk - Skied in 2015 with H2O Guides - specifically some shoulders of the massif (not the summit) while doing runs in The Valley of The Tusk.

Valdez Mountain Guides Heli Map. Over the years, we have skied most of the sectors/mountains in the middle and right side.
Chugach Valdez.png



I will post some photos punctuated by ski or travel days. I asked our guide the names of runs and mountains that we skied and texted them to myself, but I accidentally deleted them. I still have SkiTracks recordings of where we skied.


Travel to Valdez, AK: Sunday, April 13, 2024.
Travel to Valdez is relatively straightforward from the West Coast. Direct flights from San Francisco (me) and Denver (my brother and friend Josh) on United and Alaska arrive around noon in Anchorage. Generally winter flights to Anchorage are pretty reasonable $ price or FF miles - not much more than SLC or Denver and less than more remote Rockies destinations.

In the first year, 2015, we did Ravn Air flights from Anchorage to Valdez - great views of the Chugach! However, these flights are unreliable, and we needed a car to commute from Valdez Town to Thompson Pass/Tsaina Lodge every day, so we made the epic road trip from Anchorage to Valdez. It's a beautiful drive, seeing Denali National Park in the distance, the backside of the Chugach, St. Elias National Park, and the Copper River (home to the best Salmon in North America!) Lots of wildlife visible - moose and black bears. We previously rented a car in 2016 to get around Anchorage-Girdwood-Valdez, and it worked well. It's a relatively easy lowland 5-hour drive.



Josh and I are on the Chugach Backside/Northside, near Majestic HeliSki. The weekend storm had broken apart here. Majestic has a much lower percentage of no-fly days than coastal heli operators.
IMG_3071.JPG




We finally made it to Valdez! Love the town, its harbor and the low tree line.
IMG_3112.jpg
IMG_3117.jpg
IMG_3138.jpg

IMG_3145.jpg

IMG_3141.jpg

IMG_4797.jpg
IMG_4802.jpg

IMG_4804.jpg




The Wheelhouse Bar and Restaurant
IMG_4805.jpg
 
Last edited:
Valdez, AK: Monday, April 14, 2024

A Deep Day on moderate, sometimes steep Chugach terrain -30"+ new snow.

Typically, I can only take photos at the beginning of a run (after unloading from the heli) and at the end point of the run. Otherwise, I use a video camera built into a pair of Zeal goggles that I picked up very cheaply - they never caught on. I like the goggle recorder since you can see whether the camera is on/off, time recorded, etc, inside the goggle frame with side on/off and record buttons. I'm not too fond of GoPro cameras sticking off your helmet.


IMG_4975.JPG
IMG_4977.JPG



Run #1
Drop-offs in the Chugach are ALWAYS a bit sketchy.
IMG_4980.JPG
IMG_4986.jpg
IMG_4822.jpg
IMG_4826.jpg
IMG_4843.jpg



Repeat Run
IMG_5013.jpg
IMG_5019.jpg
IMG_5034.jpg
IMG_5041.jpg
IMG_5047.jpg



Another run from the same starting point
IMG_5058.jpg
IMG_5060.jpg



Another run
IMG_5079.jpg
IMG_5091.jpg



Another run
IMG_5106.jpg

Gret steeps at the top
IMG_5165.jpg
IMG_5216.jpg

IMG_5211.jpg




New Zone - another run
IMG_5240.JPG
IMG_5296.jpg

Into the Abyss
IMG_5299.JPG
IMG_5300.jpg
IMG_5301.jpg
IMG_5305.jpg
IMG_5308.jpg


IMG_5323.jpg
IMG_5337.jpg

IMG_5252.jpg



Another run - same start point
IMG_5360.jpg
IMG_5365.jpg
IMG_5392.JPG

Back down the valley to civilization.
IMG_5247.jpg
 

Attachments

  • IMG_4991.jpg
    IMG_4991.jpg
    200.8 KB · Views: 38
Valdez, AK: Tuesday, April 15, 2024

Letting the low clouds/fog burn off in the morning.....perhaps the worst visibility day.

We mostly skied on big open faces where you could let it rip—excellent high-speed powder skiing. It's nice not to have too many blind rollovers because you cannot scope the run from the backseat of the heli.

We mostly stayed in one or two proximate valleys, alternating sides. One side had been a little wind-compacted up high into 6-12" of powder. Things got deeper as you descended.


Tail guide Ben
IMG_3158.JPG
IMG_3160.jpg
IMG_3164.jpg
IMG_3165.jpg
IMG_3168.jpg
IMG_3171.jpg
IMG_3173.jpg
IMG_3174.jpg
IMG_3177.jpg
IMG_3182.JPG
IMG_3183.jpg
IMG_3185.jpg
IMG_3195.jpg
IMG_3197.jpg
IMG_3198.jpg
IMG_3203.JPG
IMG_3210.JPG


Heli back to base
IMG_3213.jpg
 
Valdez, AK: Wednesday, April 16, 2024

One of my best ski days ever: Alaska, Bluebird skies, 10-20" powder, Good stability, Steep terrain/couloirs/glaciers, getting deep into the Chugach!


Beautiful morning in Valdez town
IMG_3270.jpg
IMG_3273.jpg


First Run
IMG_3288.jpg


Massive glaciers in the valleys - Thompson Pass and orod in background
IMG_3291.jpg
IMG_3299.JPG
IMG_3301.jpg


More blind rollovers - What are we skiing?
IMG_3304.JPG
IMG_3305.jpg
IMG_3306.jpg
IMG_3310.jpg


Gets easier
IMG_3314.jpg
IMG_3315.jpg
IMG_3318.jpg
IMG_3322.jpg
IMG_3334.jpg


Another run
IMG_3335.jpg
IMG_3342.jpg


Another run....
IMG_3345.jpg
IMG_3348.jpg
IMG_3349.JPG
IMG_3350.JPG
IMG_3351.jpg
IMG_3356.jpg


Tracks somewhere up there...
IMG_3361.jpg
IMG_3362.JPG
IMG_3363.jpg


Another run
IMG_3369.jpg
IMG_3372.JPG


Avalanche/Slough avoidance
IMG_3375.jpg
IMG_3378.jpg


Lunch on a Glacier
IMG_3381.JPG
IMG_3382.JPG
 
Last edited:
Valdez, AK: Wednesday, April 16, 2024 (Continued)

Lots of photos from this day since it was exceptional.

The beautiful Chugach mountains and glaciers.
IMG_3384.JPG
IMG_3386.JPG
IMG_3391.JPG


Meteorite Mountain - One of the Big 5 in the Chugach
IMG_3392.JPG


Cutting steep slopes - Let's see if it slides.
IMG_3400.jpg
IMG_3402.JPG
IMG_3404.JPG
IMG_3405.JPG


Nice steep slopes/walls
IMG_3407.JPG


Another way down
IMG_3409.JPG
IMG_3411.jpg
IMG_3412.JPG


Lemmings into the Abyss
IMG_3420.jpg
IMG_3421.jpg
IMG_3424.jpg



Another Couloir - we were lapping this section
IMG_3425.jpg
IMG_3428.JPG
IMG_3429.JPG


Get enough speed to jump the Bergschrund
IMG_3435.JPG


More steep couloirs
IMG_3437.jpg
IMG_3442.JPG


Happy to be alive
IMG_3460.jpg
IMG_3471.JPG
IMG_3474.JPG
IMG_3475.JPG
IMG_3492.JPG


Lots of beautiful couloirs to choose from - each about 2500 vertical feet.
IMG_3495.JPG
IMG_3497.jpg
 
Last edited:
Valdez, AK: Wednesday, April 16, 2024 (Continued)

Here are just a few more pictures from the day. I am beginning to feel like one of the Germans on AlpinForum who document every ski day with hundreds of photos. But photos are easy to scroll through and do not really need much verbiage.


I need to get the name of this valley with all of these great couloirs. We must have spent half the day lapping them. They are fantastically steep and powdery. The famous Chugach snow does not easily slide but skis so well.
IMG_3501.jpg
IMG_3503.JPG
IMG_3505.JPG
IMG_3506.JPG
IMG_3508.JPG



Guide finding another vertical wall to ski
IMG_3510.jpg
IMG_3516.jpg


Another run, another blind rollover.....guessing what could be on the other side. We were about 40-50 miles deep into the Chugach, nearly bordering Majestic HeliSki's terrain.
IMG_3522.JPG
IMG_3525.JPG
IMG_3529.jpg
IMG_3533.JPG
IMG_3539.JPG
IMG_3540.JPG
IMG_3543.JPG
IMG_3547.JPG


Greg and I
IMG_3549.JPG

IMG_3548.JPG


Time to head back
IMG_3552.JPG
IMG_3555.jpg
IMG_3559.JPG
IMG_3562.JPG
 
Those are very impressive pics indeed. I've probably aged out of this kind of skiing; too many rest stops would not be appreciated by most groups.

How much did you overrun the vertical guarantee with no down days? Of course this is the situation where you're happy to pay up.

We were at Points North 10 years ago this exact week and skied a couple hours April 14 and maybe 3/4 of a day April 17. I decided than I was probably done with Alaska heliskiing despite having perhaps my lifetime best day on skis with Chugach Powder Guides in 2007.
 
Valdez, AK: Thursday, April 17, 2024

Today was one of the best heli days ever! Some groups went out early and attempted Meteorite Mountain but got fogged in and skied the entire 5-6k of vertical by Braille. They quit for the day.

We went out at noon with a new group from Israel; they crashed after 1-2 runs due to extreme jetlag. So we had our own private helicopter for the afternoon, ending at 6/7 pm. The Heli would even turn its motor off as the pilot waited for us. We could go anywhere, so we chose a few big open faces, more steep couloirs, and Dimond Peak (Big 5) 5-6k vertical for closing. We mostly stayed on the East side of Thompson Pass today.

IMG_3605.jpg
IMG_3613.jpg



We did a bunch of runs from this peak. It's sometimes nice to repeat a landing destination because you are finally familiar with the terrain and have skied it. The first run is always a little tricky since you cannot survey it beforehand - backseat, do not always fly over run before landing.
IMG_3615.jpg
IMG_3619.jpg



Landings are always exciting/scary in Chugach. One false move, and either you, your backpack, or your skis are off into who knows what. Sometimes, they need more concentration than the run itself.
IMG_3622.jpg
IMG_3631.jpg
IMG_3634.JPG



Now some Couloirs - So so many in the Chugach. The snow bonds extremely well and starts to dry out over time. The only worry is sloughing snow in tighter chutes; you either try to outrun it near the bottom or let it pass. I was taken out once during the trip when too much snow loaded on the back of my skis and flipped me.
IMG_3638.jpg
IMG_3639.JPG
IMG_3643.jpg



Lots of big open spaces. Not everything needs to be a challenge.
IMG_3645.jpg
IMG_3661.JPG


Mount Diamond - Ready to ski one of the Big 5 Chugach Peaks!
IMG_3663.jpg


Mount Diamond Summit
IMG_3665.jpg
IMG_3668.JPG
IMG_3672.jpg


Avoiding minor slides on the left
IMG_3676.jpg
IMG_3693.jpg
IMG_3709.JPG
IMG_3710.JPG



Private Helicopter waiting (for today only)
IMG_3714.jpg


Looking back to Mount Diamond
IMG_3727.jpg


Some less extreme fun runs
IMG_3736.jpg
IMG_3741.jpg
IMG_3745.jpg
IMG_3747.JPG


Back to more couloirs we missed; We are addicted.
IMG_3751.jpg


Some more big open powder before heading to the Tsaina Lodge Base.
IMG_3760.jpg
IMG_3788.JPG
IMG_3795.jpg


Now, we are scouting for Mount Dimond for the home run. Do not have any photos besides video since the landing and winds were sketchy; it rises about 2-2.5k higher than other mountains and is quite exposed.
IMG_3797.jpg



Last Dinner/Night in Valdez - King Crab and ShotSki

IMG_3810.JPG

IMG_4894.jpg
IMG_4946.JPG

IMG_4948.JPG
 
Last edited:
Valdez, AK: Thursday, April 17, 2024 (Continued)
Here are a few photos of the Tsaina Lodge while we waited for the morning skies to clear. It is a beautiful renovation, but it is only for $$$$ paying groups during Valdez Heli Guide ski season ($115k for a week with up to 8 skiers).

We stay in Valdez and independently provide our own lodging, transportation, and breakfast/lunch for significantly less (50-66% less). Knowing how Valdez works, we are pretty comfortable, and down days are better in town.

.
IMG_3214.JPG
IMG_3215.JPG
IMG_3218.JPG
IMG_3219.JPG


That is Mount Dimond the distance middle-left of frame.
IMG_3225.JPG
IMG_3226.JPG



Here are some professional photos of Mount Diamond. Most ski the steep faces or couloirs into the Promised Land Zone, seen below. (Like we did). Obviously, it's not as vertical as the photograph.
Mount-Dimond-Alaska-2hgl7q6ov0.jpg
Mount-Diamond-Alaska-etzu5svg34.jpg
 
Last edited:
Those are very impressive pics indeed. I've probably aged out of this kind of skiing; too many rest stops would not be appreciated by most groups.

How much did you overrun the vertical guarantee with no down days? Of course this is the situation where you're happy to pay up.

We were at Points North 10 years ago this exact week and skied a couple hours April 14 and maybe 3/4 of a day April 17. I decided than I was probably done with Alaska heliskiing despite having perhaps my lifetime best day on skis with Chugach Powder Guides in 2007.

Valdez Heli Guides and Black Ops Valdez both operate on Hobbs Hours: there are no runs or vertical guarantees. This is advantageous for lapping steep faces/couloirs since you do not need much heli time to repeat; meanwhile, you would be racking up runs or vertical feet.

We created our own 5-day package instead of the typical 7 days because it was the last public ski week of the year. We had 4 Hobbs (Heli) hours to use as a group. Exceeding our hours sometime Thursday afternoon (lots of runs with your private heli) we purchased another Hobbs hour for about $4k divided 3 ways to cover Thursday and half a day Friday.

The website claims "the weather patterns at Tsaina Lodge are more stable than other parts of the Chugach Mountains, so Valdez Heli Ski Guides only have about 20% down days." Possibly if they can get out of Thompson Pass soup and head to the north side of the Chugach, but I do not believe this.

I believe 60% fly days might be right for the Chugach Mountains - except for Majestic Heliski. In 2016, in Valdez, the two weeks preceding our 80% fly day week, other skiers only had about 20% fly days. They sat in the lodge 80% of the time. The Chugach are the Land of Broken Bucket List Dreams.

I likely will not go to Alaska again because I do not want to take the risk of not skiing for 50%+ of a trip - despite some of the best terrain and snow on the planet. Rather have very positive meories.

In 2016, our friend Joash went bonkers with one down day out of five - being a giant PITA. Not sure what we would do with him if we only 50%.
 
Valdez, AK: Friday, April 18, 2024

Last day. Relatively easy skiing/big GS turns in the Southern Chugach with views of Valdez and Prince William Sound. Did not want to get injured, and did not have much heli-time left. Plus, we needed to get on the road to Anchorage and did not want to dodge moose at night - lots hang out on the road.

We did redeye flights home out of Anchorage with Northern Lights visible behind Denali. I have seen 2x on late-night flights from Anchorage in April; I have NO desire to go to Iceland or Scandinavia on a viewing trip when I have witnessed the Aurora Borealis flickering behind North America's highest mountain. Or maybe I am not that into Astronomy.


Valdez Harbor
IMG_3836.jpg
IMG_3840.JPG
IMG_3841.JPG
IMG_3849.JPG
IMG_3859.JPG


Valdez and Prince William Sound
IMG_3882.JPG
IMG_3884.jpg


Still some steep faces
IMG_3885.JPG
IMG_3904.jpg


Group photo with Valdez and Prince William Sound in the background
IMG_3908.jpg
IMG_3913.JPG


A few more steep lines
IMG_3916.jpg
IMG_3926.jpg



Lots of big open-face skiing
IMG_3932.jpg
IMG_3937.jpg
IMG_3943.JPG
IMG_3945.jpg
IMG_3947.JPG
IMG_3948.jpg


The guide takes off.
IMG_3968.JPG


Lots of huge glaciers
IMG_3969.jpg
IMG_3970.JPG
IMG_3971.JPG


Last run. We only skied about a half day to 12/1 pm until our additional Hobbs Hour was used up.
IMG_3986.JPG
 
Back
Top