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Kent McBride Celebrates “Sweet 16” Seasons Heli Guiding in Alaska
Posted on April 28, 2011

Story by Kent McBride; photos by Will Wissman

I can’t believe that this is my 16th season heli ski guiding in Alaska. It doesn’t seem like long ago when I was handed my first group to take out exploring. Heli ski guiding is arguably the most fun and difficult type of guiding.

In 1996 I began guiding in Valdez with the first helicopter and ski plane operator. I’ve noticed a lot has changed and stayed the same over the years. There were poker chips for individual runs and RVs, snow caves and Porta-Potty’s. Now clients get week-long packages with about 100,000 vertical feet, hotel rooms and eat halibut and crab.

In the early days, snowboard and ski bums would form groups to fill the heli to go to unnamed peaks they thought they could ski and talk the pilot into landing on. As more and more chips were being sold, the need for guides began as more skiers and riders showed up. Most of the self-elected guides had a great deal of ski or snowboard experience but very little, if any, formal heli-ski guiding experience. This all fit because there really wasn’t anything similar to Alaska steep skiing. A new book needed to be written.

Back then, both the milimeters of the width of skis and the horsepower of the helicopters weren’t nearly as high as they are today. Wide skis were parabolic at around 70-80mm in the waist, and the helicopters were Bell 206 Long Rangers. Both were a sketchy ride in variable conditions.

I was told that after 9/11 aviation insurance almost doubled, and that has really changed the cost and type of clients. I remember ski bums who drove up to Alaska after their local resorts had closed with all the money they had saved from the year. They drank bad beer, ate Ramen noodles, and slept in snowcaves that they dug into the side of the snowbank in the parking lot just so they would have more money for more poker chips to fly with.

What hasn’t changed, is the steep powder stoke and the adventure of exploring new and creative lines.

Author: - Thursday, April 28th, 2011

  1. Cathy Kelly

    Congratulations Kent on being such an inspiration to us all!
    Loving what you do and being a definite risk taker!
    Love you brother in law!

  2. Jean T. McBride

    I am proud of your professionalism, your work ethicts, your love of what you do and how you share this all with others.
    Your biggest fan.

  3. Eric Alexander

    Just another Evergreener from down the street in Hiwan checking in to say hello. Congratulations on all your achievements and travels. My sister Lisa told me about what you have been up to. I had no idea. Keep it up and stay safe!

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