Photographer, filmer, skier, confessed heli addict & our resident Guest Photo Editor Tony “Harro” Harrington got his first taste of Alaska heliski in the 1990’s.
He’s been drawn to its majestic mountains ever since, and we’ve been drawn to his majestic images that document the amazing AK ski experience.
I remember talking to Jeff Zell while we were in Wanaka and saying, “I don’t think I’m a good enough skier to handle Alaska.”
Jeff is a big mountain skier from Jackson Hole who already had the AK bug.
“You’ll be just fine” he chuckled. I thought he was simply putting shit on me.
Sure enough, six months later I found myself in Valdez. My plan was to go as a photographer to cover the World Extreme Skiing Championship (WESC) event that was attracting the top big mountain skiers from around the globe.
In a twist of fate someone pulled out, a spot opened up, and suddenly I was offered a slot to compete. I had skied quite well in NZ extreme skiing events for a couple of years, but this was a massive step. I’d never made a turn in Alaska and suddenly I was a starter for an event I had intended to witness through my lens.
Those first two days of the WESC event are up there in my memories as some of the best days of my skiing life. It didn’t feel like a competition, just the most free skiing I’ve experienced. The snow was deep, fresh and stable, and everything was so vast.
It made me appreciate I had the ski ability. I also quickly realised I’d not been on anything that big before. That is what Alaska heliski delivers: you stand on something mighty that takes your breath away and it leaves you feeling small. You can get yourself addicted to that.
I have got to say NOTHING compares to mighty Chugach range. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s so incredibly wild and beautiful. It attracts a certain breed of skier and boarder, but I assure you it’s not just for the dare devils. Sure, there are lines there to be skied that your mother would never like to hear that you’ve dropped into, but for every line you’ve seen featured in a Teton Gravity Research or Warren Miller movie there are numerous more that are pure bliss for the mere mortals among us.
When filming with Jeremy Jones, Kent Kreitler and Teton Gravity Research back in 1997 I met Kevin Quinn. TGR were based in Valdez and each day we’d hunt down first descents, flying deeper and deeper into the mountains in search of unskied Alaska heliski terrain.
We worked our way out past the lines of ranges called “The Books”, “The Library” and “The Detention Centre”, until we hit the Gulf of Alaska. On one particular day we came across a particularly rowdy zone we named “Crazy Spines”.
There was only one problem, we were so far away from our Valdez base that we didn’t have enough fuel to hit the line and make it back to home.
That’s when the pilot remembered there was a guy who was starting a new heli operation outside the small coastal fishing village of Cordova, not far from where we were. We radioed ahead and he kindly offered us fuel, so we flew down to an old fish cannery where I met Kevin.
On arrival he greeted us with a pot of freshly cooked Alaskan king crab and shared with us his vision of Points North Heli, his start up heli outfit: to offer every visitor the greatest snow experience of their life.
There is no road to Cordova, sea or air is the only way in. Twenty years on, Points North Heli sits just outside of town, perched on the edge of a breathtaking waterway full of otters, bald eagles and even the occasional orca.
The lodge has a distinctive Alaskan flavour, comfortable accommodation, a rusty sauna, a mess hall where everyone gathers for meals and three helicopters parked outside. Everything you need and more for a good ol’ fashion adventure. Alaska heliski doesn’t get better than this.
A couple of dozen Australian skiers and boarders visit Points North Heli each season and book it in a year ahead. I know why they do.
For those interested, feel free to contact me about putting together a heliski group, as I’ll be up there next season to celebrate their 21st year and it would be great to catch up and share some of the local Alaskan Amber Ale, some crab dinners and a few of the best runs of your life. I’ll even take the photos.
For Points North Heli info/bookings go to www.alaskaheliski.com
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
To get a poster print of Harro’s amazing images – surf as well as snow – get over to harroart.com