The Ultimate Mid-life Career change: Aussie builder to Alaska heli guide with H2O

snow action team 08.01.2016

Forget lifetime employment in one job & going on the pension: it’s adapt, retrain, and work till you drop these days. So approaching the big 5-0, Aussie brickie and volunteer Thredbo patroller Gareth Beaven decided to do just that. Well, the adapt & retrain part so far, just completing his heli tail guiding qualification with Dean Cumming’s legendary H2O Guides outfit in Valdez, Alaska, this April. Sure beats getting a few shifts at Bunnings [a mega hardware/homeware store chain for our international readers] as a career move..

SnowAction caught up with him for the lowdown on the ultimate bucket-list career change move. And speaking of bucket lists, he’s putting a special tour group together for April 2016 – call him 0417274625 about that.

guide sunny hamilton gives the lowdown before dropping into page one of ‘the books’ © dean cummings’ h2o guides

guide sunny hamilton gives the lowdown before dropping into page one of ‘the books’ © dean cummings’ h2o guides

How did you get into your original career?

I’ve been in the building game since I was 15yrs old.

I came home from school one day and my father told me I was going to be a brickie apprentice with the bloke around the corner, and that was me for the next 20 years. It has paid for my skiing trips and memories, so I’m not complaining.

What about skiing, how did you get hooked on that?

I’ve been skiing since I was 15 as well. I was addicted straight away. I skied most weekends after getting my drivers licence. Bought my first caravan at Pats Patch in Jindabyne with a few mates back in 1985.

When did you get into volunteer Patrolling?

I had my first season pass at Thedbo years ago, and Thredbo is a great place to ski here in Australia so it seemed to be the best place to get into patrolling. I started there a couple of years ago and yes you got it, I love it. It keeps me busy all day, helping people and making new mates is great, I hope I’m doing it for years to come.

Where did the heli side of things start?

Back in ‘85 I tried heliskiing at Whistler. And that was that. What can you say about heliskiing but incredible! I’ve been heliskiing in NZ a heap of times. Mostly out of Methven with Methven Heli Skiing in the Ragged Ranges and Arrowsmiths.

I made great mates with the late Jonny Morgan, a guide at Methven Heli who was tragically killed while guiding. I was in Methven when it happened, I was in fact supposed to ski with him that day, but pulled out due to weather. He was a great influence to me, not only to guide, but also to get avi wise. He is a sadly missed friend.

We met you up in Madarao, were you onto ‘Japow’ early in the piece?

Well I’ve been skiing Japan since 2000 and managed to get there most years since then to get my powder fix. I’ve checked out dozens of different resorts. Japan really is a special place and has given me so many great memories.

I have also managed to squeeze in a few exotic trips to India. The Himalayas has a magical place called Gulmarg. I experienced some pretty awesome heli skiing on the border of Pakistan and India. They call this place the “Line of control”.  It is steep and gnarly and the perfect name for the place.

But all along seems like you were building to hitting AK?

Alaska, it’s the last frontier so they say. So for sure, I always wanted to go and Valdez is definitely the pinnacle of skiing in my opinion. It simply has everything a skier or boarder could ever ask for – big steep lines, powder, scenery that has to be seen to be believed, and the town of Valdez is a must visit.

It has skiing at your door step if you want to walk (ie skin up), or a heli parked at the airport ready to go.

welcome to the ‘steep life’ thompson’s peak © dean cummings’ h2o guides

welcome to the ‘steep life’ thompson’s peak © dean cummings’ h2o guides

What planted the seed to want to get into heli guiding?

On my many trips to NZ heliskiing I did think about becoming a heli guide. Just being there watching the guides dig out snow pits, picking routes and being verbal with the customers, and of course the skiing. But my life wasn’t ready to make the change. It has been a gradual thing. Being a father with four kids and a wife didn’t make it seem viable at that time. That was about 10 years ago. Now with our kids all grown and pretty much independent seems the ideal time to make the change.

The transition really started when I took part in my first avi course in NZ. My wife Jules was starting to worry as she had heard a lot about avalanches, and with myself and our kids going to all these new places she needed the security of knowing that I had the proper education to survive in the extremes we were heading into. A lot of Aussies really don’t realise the dangers involved in skiing and boarding out of resort controlled terrain.

How did H2O Heli Guides come into the equation?

I was doing a lot of heli and skiing in different places and I was handling the terrain the guides were throwing me into, and Jules was always looking for educational courses for me as she knows my love of the life, so when she came across H2O Heliguides in AK I called them up and they had a heli course in Utah with Dean Cummings (former World Extreme Ski Champion and all round legend), who is H2O.

I signed up. After doing the 1st AMSG American Mechanised Ski Guide Course I was hooked and there was no going back. Dean and the H2O Team were amazing and I learnt so much from them.

beats driving the ute to the bowlo for last run of the day - gareth beaven on the back side of meteorite mountain © josh coole

beats driving the ute to the bowlo for last run of the day – gareth beaven on the back side of meteorite mountain © josh coole

So after Utah Alaska was the logical next step?

The following year Dean invited me back to do NAMSG Course 2. It was an extremely in-depth course, involving things like AK avalanche safety, terrain choices, deep crevasse rescue, group dynamics, snow stability, heli loadings, landings and pickups, along with everything to do with clients and heli ops.

It’s a lot to learn but it was worth it.

The next year I went back to AK purely to heli ski with H2O guides and I was lucky enough to ski with Dean most of the time and I never stopped learning the entire trip. Snow safety and terrain choices and surviving “The Steep Life.”

My last trip to AK this year involved Tail Guiding, learning more about the runs, heli ops and skiing runs not yet skied to tick them off – runs such as the ones in the photos here: The Triangle, Sluff City, Backside of Meteorite Mountain, Barbie Couloir and many more. I am totally hooked and Valdez AK is just next level.


What makes Valdez so special?

You’ve heard my views, so I asked Dean to answer that, he has skied all around the world and feels nothing else compares.

“It is the pinnacle of skiing. It has one of the most stable snow packs in the world. Being a maritime snow pack with each snow fall the bonding of each fresh fall adheres quicker than the continental packs of central USA. In short it is the longest, biggest and steepest featured terrain anyone could ask for.”

H2O Guides has 4000 square miles of peaks surrounded by glaciers that are still growing, with a snow pack which can increase to 20 feet plus in a three day storm. Now thats amazing! It is simply the best Heliskiing in the world.

Get on it?

Gareth will be doing a couple of trips to Valdez Alaska next year taking Aussies as a H2O Aussie Host Guide. For more info/bookings on those check with him:

email gbe17105@bigpond.net.au or call 0417274625

more www.alaskahelicopterskiing.com

now that’s an aprés bar view © gareth beaven

now that’s an aprés bar view © gareth beaven

Gareth at the day job

Gareth at the day job