This summer HELISKI.com / HeliskiingReview.com visited with Jessica Quinn, who co-owns and operates Points North Heli Adventures with her husband Kevin. As you might guess, she happens to be one bad betty! The conversation follows.
1. How do you contrast Alaska Heliskiing with BC Heliskiing.
Honestly there is no comparison. The terrain and snow pack that Alaska offers is unlike that of anywhere in the world! The warm moist air converges with the cold glaciers creating a maritime snow pack that allows snow to virtually stick to places that make riding some of the steepest terrain in the world accessible. Not to say that we have a wet snow pack, as that is not the case. The snow quality in the Chugach is perfect and can often times feel like Utah powder. Alaska is the super bowl of helicopter skiing. We like to refer to it as Disney Land on steroids!
2. Is your terrain all high alpine, or do you have tree skiing, too?
Trees are very limited in all regions of Alaska. We do have trees but remember, tree line is Alaska hovers around 1500’ above sea level. We do have tree skiing early season (Jan / Feb) when temps are cold and we can ski to the valley floors, but honestly the famous terrain of Alaska is in the alpine. Most often we are tree skiing at our local chair lift, Mt Eyak on “activity days”… Others refer to this as a “down day”. [nice euphemism!] At PNH there are no down days, just activity days riding our chair lift. Typical runs in the helicopter terrain in Alaska start at or around 6500’-7000’ descending down to around 2000’ or higher. Average runs are anywhere from 2000’ – 4000’ in vertical.
3. What sets Points North Heliskiing apart from other Alaska Heliskiing?
No matter who you decide to visit in Alaska, if you get good weather, you’re going to have a great trip! Everyone has something to offer and we are all different. What sets PNH apart from the other operators is:
We are truly “all-inclusive with a beautiful lodge located on Prince William Sound with the Chugach in our backyard and the ocean in our front yard. We have 3 beautiful A-star helicopters that are located outside your window and act as an “alarm clock”. We are away from the other 5 operators in Valdez meaning there is no race to access the terrain in the morning. You will never see another aircraft flying in our area. Additionally, Alaska Airlines flies into Cordova 3 times daily, meaning there are no commuter flights to connect to and then long bus rides and car trips to get to our lodge. PNH is the only operator in the area that is a member of the United Stated Heli-Ski Association. There are only 2 operators in Alaska that are part of HSUS.
Cordova has a chair lift, Mt Eyak. The chair came from Sun Valley in the early 70’s. It allows for great skiing on “activity days” when aircraft cannot access the heli-ski terrain. PNH has numerous yurts allowing for non-motorized ski touring access. Yurts are stocked with firewood, food and various amenities for your comfort. The objective at PNH is to keep you skiing everyday. If you choose not to ski, we also have sea-kayaks, a local surf break and boats to take you fishing. Cordova is home to the famous Copper River and a trip to town is unique in itself. No roads connect to Cordova meaning that each and every local that resides here has made an effort to get here. The Cordova chamber of commerce motto is “Alaska’s best kept secret”. We can only encourage you to find out the secret for your self. Our return rate alone speaks for itself. We are averaging just over 80% returns. Our clients come as new guests and return as our long time loyal friends. Last but not least, PNH has been featured in the last 10 Warren Miller films consecutively.
4. How much vertical do you average in a week and how many days of riding?
An average is anywhere from 60,000’ to well over 100,000’ if the weather is on your side. An average week comes down to the weather, no matter where you go in Alaska. No one has a “blue hole” or force field. All of us get the very same weather coming in from the Gulf of Alaska. We try to be very honest with people and tell them that they are going to experience weather in Alaska. In an average week guests should get 2-3 big days of riding. They can get more if the weather is in their favor. Some operations will keep you at their remote heli base waiting to get 1 run in at 6pm after waiting all day. Our view is simple. Send you to the chair lift, ski all day and in the event the weather cooperates, we will be flying you into the mountains when it does clear.
5. Alaska is known for steep. Do you advise newbie’s to try BC heliskiing before they come to Alaska?
We advise everyone to come to Alaska! What is so unique about Alaska is the amount of terrain it has to offer. At PNH we have over a 1000 square skiable miles of terrain. More terrain than one could access in a lifetime! Movies and magazines have made Alaska this extreme spooky place, however, we can tell you honestly; there is something for everyone. We can only encourage you to choose an operator that is a member of the US Heli Ski Association.
6. How can you tell on the phone if a client is going to be able to hang?
Everyone on the phone has questions. Generally the same questions arise. When is the best time? Will I get stuck with weaker skiers? How many to a group? These are all valid concerns. If we cannot match you with folks of the same desires and ability, we have 27 employees waiting to go ski and ride wherever you so choose. There is no best time. It’s when the weather cooperates. Alaska has something to offer everyone. We say this in confidence.
8. Describe your lodging at Points North Heli.
Our lodging at PNH is very unique. We operate out of the Orca Cannery, a 20-acre parcel directly on the waterfront complete with a wood fired sauna. We do not have a 5 Star lodge like that of the CMH’s or many of the Canadian style lodges, but our facility is very clean and comfortable. Our dining hall is filled with a large screen TV, ping pong, foosball video games etc. Our facility feels like going to “camp” as a kid. All of our rooms are clean and spacious with their own restrooms and showers allowing for privacy. We are very proud of our facility and its something that separates us from many of the others in Alaska.
9. What helicopters do you use? How many guests per lift? How many lifts per helicopter? Sorry, three questions in one…
We utilize the A-star B2 exclusively. Groups are 4 riders to 1 guide. We are lucky to say that we have had the same helicopters, pilots and mechanics now for 12 of our 14 years. North Star Helicopters out of Juneau, Alaska is one of the top operators in the state. They are Alaskan pilots with thousands of hours flying in Alaska, winter and summer. On and average fly day one can expect to get 8-12 lifts in a day, averaging 25,000 -40,000’ of vertical depending on what it is your riding.
12. What packages does Points North offer?
Our package includes ALL of your meals, lodging, transportation in and around Cordova including airport pickup and drop off along with all state of the art safety gear. Additionally, you get 4 helicopter hours of actual fly time. An average day is around 1 hour and 15 minutes of fly time in the early season and 1 hour and 30 minutes in the later part of the season. 4 helicopter hours is generally getting you 3 big days of riding. It is not common for guests to go over their 4 heli hour buy in, given the weather factors in Alaska. If in the event you do get 4 or 5 days of riding you simply pay as you go. Once you go over your 4 helicopter hours you are not expected to ski, however we bet that you will want to. A package for 7 nights lodging (all-inclusive, meals, lodging and transportation) and 4 heli-hours is $4,875.
13. Tell us about traveling to Points North Heliskiing.
Getting to Cordova and our location is very simple. Alaska Airlines flies in and out of Cordova 3 times a day. Access is from either Anchorage or Seattle. Our facility is 15 minutes from the airport. We pick you up and drop you off. It is about the easiest place to access in all of Alaska for heli-skiing.
14. What are the steepest slopes you ski with guests?
This is a question that depends purely on the guest and the conditions at the given time. It’s common for guests to come to Alaska and think they could never ski something like they just did. A common response is “that was the best run of my life” and the guide response is “ I thought the last run was…” Runs can range from 10 degrees down the glacier to 60 plus degrees and more. The snow pack that Alaska offers allows for access to these famous slopes. The skier and his / her ability is what allows them to gain access to the steep slopes if they choose. At PNH the guide will take you to your first few runs and from there you and your group decide where you would like to go next. If conditions allow for the run your choosing, the guide’s job is to make certain you can do it and make it happen safely. We are not selling you vertical. You will get that. We are selling you an experience of a lifetime!
15. Anything else you want to add?
No mater where you choose to go Alaska, each operator has something for you. We can only encourage you to ask the proper questions and do your research prior to your trip. Additionally, when heli skiing in US, make certain the look for the US Heli Skiing Association logo.
Thanks for your time here with us!
No, Jessica, thank YOU for the giving us the full story about Points North Heliskiing out of Codova, Alaska. I have only been to a few places in Valdez, so I hope to get up there soon!
All Photos: Court Leve