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Heliski.com Interviews Alaska Rendezvous Guides, 15 Questions with HELISKI.com

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The Author, Skiing with Alaska Rendezvous Guides circa ’04

Theo Meiners is an Alaska heliskiing pioneer. We met through a mutual friend with whom we had both run the Grand Canyon in kayaks. Theo runs Alaska Rendezous Heli-Guides (ARG), on the Thompson Pass east of Valdez, Alaska. It’s the first place I had the pleasure of heliskiing Alaska. I caught up with Theo recently to talk about heliskiing Alaska.

1. Theo, how long have you been guiding heliskiing in Alaska?

I have worked on Thompson Pass as a Heli Guide for 17 seasons, and have had an incredible run.

2. Wow, did you grow up skiing in Alaska?

I learned to ski in 1967 in the Chugach Mountains at Arctic Valley and Aleyeska, outside of Anchorage. At a very young age my brother and I were ducking the ropes and skiing 5 miles down Ship Creek to the main valley, and on a few occasions to the Eagle River drainages. We also would ski from Picnic Point at Alyeska down what now is the North Face. Don’t ask me how we survived, but we did.

3. So you have a ‘feel’ for skiing in the Chugach?

I feel that those early Childhood experiences and memories give me an inherent advantage. My feet know the texture of the snow of the Chugach Mountains – The Mountains of the Real People, as the Inuit and Chugach native peoples call their land.

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If you have not been, you should go. The scale is immense!

4. How did you find yourself guiding in the Valdez area?

I was first taken to the Valdez area by The WESC team. The late John McCune and Pete Murphy hired me to do snow pack evaluations, avalanche hazard reduction, and finally as a Judge of the 1996 World Extreme Ski Contest. It was quite the homecoming.

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5. What was your first heliskiing guide gig?

I had known Doug Coombs (legendary extreme skier and founder of Valdez Heli-Ski Guides) since he was a freshman at Montana State University in Bozeman. He had started his guide service after his success in the WESC contest. So once the ‘96 contest was concluded, Emily (Coombs) hired me first as a guide. Later I became operations and logistic manager, as well as one of the 4 lead guides.

6. What was it like in the early days of Valdez Heli-Skiing?

Those were the pioneering years. We found so much great skiing! Everyday was as thrilling as the first decent fell to our discovery team. After 5 seasons with Doug, I started my own service as Doug and Emily sold his business and went on to La Grave (still home to Doug Coombs Steep Skiing Camps Worldwide).

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Chute!

7. Tell us about starting your own Alaska heliskiing operation.

I started my business, the Alaska Rendezvous Lodge and Heli Ski Guides in 2000. I purchased 26.5 acres on Thompson Pass. I believe the Alaska Rendezvous Guide holds the high ground. We are 50 miles from the ocean, and that position on the pass give us more fly days than any of the other companies in the Valdez area.

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Above and Beyond Valdez!

8. There wasn’t anything out there on Thompson pass, eh?

I built the motel and bar restaurant in 2003. We continue to be amazed by the support the Valdez community has given to ARL/ARG. I’m very grateful to all the operators in Alaska, because everyone is doing their best to bring people to Alaska and to get them some true Big Mountain Experience.

[Not one of your typical ski chalets…but more than adequate, especially for Valdez!]

heli-skiing, helicopter skiingARG skis the confluence of three valleys = every exposure

9. Where do you go in the off-season?

I live for most of the year at the Lodge at 45 mile. I feel that being a local is a great advantage regarding the terrain, weather and culture of ‘the last frontier.’ [Very cool]

10. Now Alaska Rendezvous Guides is a family affair?

Both my son Aidan and my daughter Ali work with me in Alaska, so we are a unique family business.

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Next Generation

11. So you like the team?

I have the greatest staff that return year after year, which is also a strength. Every year their amplified experience propels them on to good terrain decisions and snow selection.

valdez heliskiing, helicopter skiingMellow LZ….Rare in Alaska

12. Having your own lodge makes you unusual in the Valdez area. I think it beats the no-tell motel and a bus ride. How many guests can you accommodate?

The Motel that we built-in 2003 can accommodate 20 guests but we also have the ability to put 10 full size RV’s in our 3 parking areas; where they can plug into our electrical system and use the facilities as if they too were in the motel rooms. So, we have as many as 40 guests on the property at any given time.

helicopter skiing alaska, valdez heli-skiing alaskaBack to the Lodge for Lunch – Unique in Alaska!

13. Your pricing is also different, charging separately for food. Explain how that works.

Yes, you are correct. We have packages designed for the groups that ride from Saturday to Saturday – the fully reserved (VIPS). But we also have an ala carte package, so we can reach every guest’s expectations and meet every person’s dream and budget. In the finical times we live in, every person should be able to reach their dream without being hurt with their commitments. My Guides, my children, want everyone who visits the Rendezvous to be able to afford their experience and trip to the Rendezvous. And I’m obligated to listen to the young people. It is not a new level, it is the new world, their world.

14. You are usually booked far in advance (and don’t need help from HELISKI.com, sadly). Lots of repeat guests, eh?

The Alaska Rendezvous has over a 70 percent return rate amongst our guests. This is the final piece of the formula for success – smart, capable, experienced, big mountain guests with the time, resources and skills to hang with the ARG staff [present company excluded….Seriously, they ski some steep stuff. I remember one LZ where there was not enough room for us all to put on our skis at the same time. I looked in every direction, and had no idea which way we were going down. This is not your mother’s heliskiing…].

alaska helisking, helicopter skiing alaskaNice Landing Zone, eh?

15. Theo, is there anything else you would like to add?

What can I say? I have been blessed by the Mountains and the universe, and get to ride the best snow and terrain in the world.

Thanks everyone,

Theo

Thanks, Theo! Hope to get up there to ski with you again soon

Best Regards,

tj

Tom Jackson
CPO (Chief Powder Officer)
HELISKI.com
866-HELISKI
(866-435-4754)

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heli-skiing canada, helicopter skiing bc canadaKnowledge is Powder!

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HELISKI.com Interviews H2O Guides Alaska Heliskiing Heliboarding

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Aaron Karitis of H2O Guides Auditions for HELISKI.com Interview

H2O Guides

Alaska Heliskiing Heliboarding

H2O Guides Alaska heliskiing operation, founded by Dean Cummings, enjoys a great reputation among HeliskiingReview.com and HELISKI.com clients. HELISKI.com caught up with H2O this summer in the first of a series of interviews with Alaska heli-skiing and heli-boarding operators: HELISKI.com 15 Questions. We talked to Aaaron Karitis (on the cover shot above) of H2O Guides from his summer home in Lake Tahoe. Many HeliskiingReview.com and HELISKI.com clients want to know how Alaska differs from British Columbian heliskiing and heliboarding. Comments welcome.

HELISKI.com Operator Interview with H2O Guides Alaska Heli-Skiing

1. Dean Cummings is a living legend. What is H20 Guide’s claim to fame?

We specialized in small group, remote helicopter skiing. And as one of the pioneers, Dean got his pick of prime terrain. We now proudly have more skiable terrain than any other operations on the planet! More terrain equals more options and better safer snow!

2. AK is almost all above tree line, right?

This is correct, most of Alaska’s terrain is considered high alpine. H2O has a couple regions that have trees and reference which allow for flying on days that are overcast and snowy. High alpine skiing is one of the factors that separate Alaska from Canada. This type of mountain environment allows for an unlimited amount of skiing terrain and variation. Translation: our guests don’t have to be concerned about farming terrain or skiing the same run or region over and over.


Landing-H20_Heli_Valdez_Photo_Nick_HAMILTON_1

Pick a Peak!

3. You do fewer runs in a day, but they are steeper and way longer than BC. Can you describe a ‘typical’ run with H2O Guides?

A typical run starts with an endless view of Chugach peaks and glaciers. 90% of the time we are skiing high alpine terrain. Our typical run is 3,000 to 6,000 feet long and ranges from 30 minutes to 2 hours long.

In Alaska, we don’t ski down a run, we take a journey through a massive mountain range. Runs range from long moderates to steep Alaska spines and ramps. Generally, our pick-ups end on the glacier. A day contains 6 runs and an average of over 20,000 vertical feet per day.

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Awwwwe-some

4. We find AK weather is more problematic, both for travel and for skiing (I was once down for 6 days in a row in Valdez). And to get there, we had to drive from Anchorage (5 hrs.). Are the flights in and out of Valdez cancelled often?

Travel to AK is not problematic, that is a false statement. Just 5% of the flights into Valdez get canceled, which is similar to most flights throughout the world. Canceled flights don’t result in missed ski days, because if an airplane can’t fly neither can a helicopter.

Over our 17 year history, we fly 68% of the time; this is a surprisingly high rate to most people who hear that rate. [That’s good. HELISKI.com advises to plan on 4 out of 7 days (57%) in Valdez] Both of our public packages, include 2 weather days, which means your seat in our helicopter is reserved for two days on your trip that you are in fact not paying for. No other operation in the world will hold your seat unless there is money on account. We realize weather can impact a trip in Alaska, our 2 weather days are designed to protect our guests.

5. AK is serious steep. They can get as extreme as you can handle. I’m an accomplished powder skier and former ski bum. There are places in Alaska that scare the hell out of me.

Alaska is seriously steep…no question. It also has a variety of terrain unlike any other region in the world! The variety and the amount of variety is perhaps the most amazing thing about skiing in Alaska. While Alaska is known for its steeps, it has runs for my 65 year old mother, to runs Seth Morrison wants nothing to do with. The majority of our skiing is 35 – 45 degree 4,000 foot powder runs. We can go steeper or more mellow and ski longer runs or shorter.

6. AK is beautiful and wild. Not really a question, I know.

Anyone who has been to Alaska, will say it is one of if not the most beautiful, raw, vast and wild places they have ever been. From a guiding stand point, the thing that stands out is the raw scale and vastness of the place. You look at a run and what seems like 10 turns ends up being 50 turns, the glacier that looks like you could walk from edge to edge, is a 5 minute heli flight.

It’s everything that everyone who say it is plus more. It’s truly something any real skier or boarder needs to experience to full complete their resume.
[Great description! I found the mountains to be foreshortened, too.]

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Alaska is Vast!

7. We tell clients that AK is a later season, because of the temps and the daylight. March is the early season. April is prime time.

Realistically, we could ski 12 months out of the year in Valdez. However, short days, cold temps and winds make skiing in traditional early winter months not as favorable as the spring. Consequently, our season is March and April. The gives us the best chance to send our guest home while skiing the most days as possible on their trip. There is no bad time to come during March and April; however we classify prime time as March 10 – April 20.

8. Most Alaska accommodations are not luxurious but better than most think, agreed?

Accommodations in Alaska are not luxurious or glamorous…the skiing more than takes care of that. We stay at a Best Western, which is the nicest hotel in town. It is located right on the Prince William Sound and is just a few steps from downtown Valdez. The accommodations are clean, comfortable, and warm and include the best restaurant and bar in town. In addition, the hotel has wireless Internet, a work out room and suite options.


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9. What if guests want a few days of skiing to warm up?

Alyeska is located 40 minutes from Anchorage. It’s a full scale resort and is a great place to warm up for a few days. We also have terrain that is more than capable of warming skiers of all abilities up.

10. How many in guests per lift / group?

Our public helicopter holds 5 and our private holds up to 8.

11. How many lifts per helicopter?

Public heli’s consist of 4 groups of 5 per heli and our private is sold as 8 people, but can be expanded if necessary.

12. What packages does H2O offer?

We have 3, 5 and 7 days packages with the ability to do custom packages as well.

13. How much farther is Valdez, Alaska than BC locations?

Alaska is a much shorter travel than most think. You can arrive into Valdez on the 6pm flight from anywhere in North America.

heli-boarding alaska, heliboarding valdez alaska
Hey, that ever LOOKS like BC Heli-Skiing….rare for Alaska

14. How do you prices compare to BC heliski operators?

Our public and private options significantly less expensive than Canada. [True, and typically a different experience, eh?]

15. Anything else you want to add?

Our terrain is simply the best! We have amazing variety, run selection, steeps and high alpine. On top of that H2O has been in Alaska the longest and has the best safety record.

h20 guides heli-skiing, heliskiing valdez alaskaHey, that looks like your Powder cover shot!

Thanks, Aaron. Hope to ski with you soon!
tj
Tom Jackson
CPO (Chief Powder Officer)
HELISKI.com
HeliskiingReview.com
Heliboard.com
866-HELISKI
(866-435-4754)

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Expert Advice – Knowledge is Powder

Alaska Heli Skiing, the time is Now

Alaska Heli-Skiing
Alaska Heliskiing is STEEP

Heli Skiing Season is just hitting its stride in Alaska.

In the Rockies, many of us are putting away our heliski gear and dusting off the bikes, tennis rackets and golf clubs. But in Alaska, heli-skiing prime time is March and April.

What’s heliskiing Alaska like? How is it different from British Columbia heli-skiing?

  • Alaska heliskiing is almost all above tree line
  • Alaska weather is more problematic, both for travel and for skiing (I was once down for 6 days in a row in Valdez). You may have to drive from Anchorage (5 hrs.) because the flights in and out of Valdez are canceled, often.
  • AK is serious steep. They can get as extreme as you can handle. I’m an accomplished powder skier and former ski bum. There are places that will scare the hell out of me.
  • AK is beautiful and wild.
  • We work with some great Alaska heli-skiing operators in both Alaska and BC
  • Alaska helicopter skiing is a later season because of the temps and the daylight. March is the early season. April is still prime time.
  • AK accommodations are not luxurious. Sometimes you commute from a Valdez hotel or stay in a motor home.
  • There is an operator out of Mt. Alyeska that allows you to ‘warm up’ before you heliski/boarding, and offers backup options during bad weather.

So if you are not ready to give up on the steep and deep, drop me a line and I will find the best options for you to do some heliskiing in Alaska!

Alaska Heli-Skiing and Heli-boarding Backcountry Extreme
Alaska Heli-Skiing - Awesome Terrain