Few female ski guides can claim the credibility of thirteen seasons in Alaska or the stacked resume of First Ascent ski guide Lel Tone. But the 2012 Powder Awards nominee and Squaw Valley avalanche forecaster is one of the trusted few who have been picking the lines and keeping clients safe in the world’s most coveted and consequential ski zones for more than a decade. Even for eternally positive Lel, not every day in a heli is paradise. But, as she details in her guide report, when all the factors align it’s like winning the lottery of life. -EB Editor
Every spring, for the last 13 years, I have been making the pilgrimage north to Alaska for the heli-ski season and can honestly say I have never quite seen a winter like this in the Chugach. In terms of numbers this season rivals all others on record with over 800 inches in Girdwood, Alaska. By mid-March Anchorage had broken the all time record for annual snowfall. With the snow bountiful we had the ability to ski powder down to sea level, which is a rarity most seasons. Bottom line: the snow-choked mountains were ripe for the taking.
For anyone that has spent time in the mountains and been at the mercy of Mother Nature…we skiers and mountaineers know it is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. We have all paid our dues, sitting thru weeks of bad weather, suffering thru day after day of wind hammered snow with the cruel torture of one bluebird day after another. Buried weak layers in the snowpack have plagued many of us for weeks on end, making it impossible to step onto slopes without triggering avalanches. Or we’ve seen the days that send us tiptoeing into the mountains nerves frazzled and on edge. So when the stars align and the weather is perfect, the snow is stable, the lines are fat and the conditions perfect it is a precious and beautiful thing. These amazing moments in time and in our lives are meant to be treasured; for now it is time to slay, pillage and savor.
The stars aligned and the northern lights shone bright at The Tordrillo Mountain Lodge on the second week of March this season. With 15 hours of Hobbs (helicopter time) on the meter, three wildly enthusiastic and talented Czech and French snowboarders, a double-guide situation and good weather in the forecast the table was set for a feast. By week’s end we had skied 95 runs and thrown down well over 30 first descents in the Tordrillo Range. We were able to ski 21 runs in one day, so plentiful that they all blend into a blur of sunlight, granite spires, powder contrails, incredible glacial views, imperceptibly small landings and crazy happy smiles, followed by more smiles. As the week came to a close, there was a sense, a knowing look from one person to another that has spent a lifetime playing and working on the mountain of how good we got it, a sense that we had just won the lottery…. kind of like we had stolen something and didn’t get caught.
The season is now coming to a close. I have come to Haines, Alaska to visit my husband Tom Wayes and fellow First Ascent teammates, Reggie Crist, Kent McBride, Chris Coulter, Lexi Dupont and Will Wissman who have been posted up here at SEABA all season. As I sit here in Haines in beautiful 50-degree weather, the pussy willows are blooming in town, the grass is exposed and the mud is deep. The prolonged warm temps are taking its toll on our winter playground. The mountains are starting to shed their winter coats. Cornices drop, glide cracks pop, bergschrunds slump and crevasses start to show themselves. After a beautiful day and eight runs of skiing powder AND corn, the stoke is high as we sit on the deck at SEABA base and drink Coronas in our ski boots long after the sun is low in the sky. We toast to another amazing day we got to heli-ski in the mountains and to a season in Alaska to rival all others.
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