HELISKI.com Gear Interview: TREW GEAR Heliskiing Apparel is “Technylish”

HELISKI.com Gear Interview: TREW GEAR Heliskiing Apparel is “Technylish”

Continuing our Heliski Gear Interview Series with a new company from my old stomping ground – Hood River, Oregon in the Columbia River Gorge.  Tripp Frey, Co-Founder/CEO of TREW GEAR and I skyped about their innovative technylish apparel.  Enjoy.

Tom (TJ): So what’s the best thing going for heli-skiers out of your TRUE GEAR line, the Cosmic?

TREW Heliskiiing Jacket - COSMICTREW Heli-skiing jacket back

Tripp: You know, it just depends.  It’s more like a personal preference thing.  Yeah, I mean the bibs are awesome.

Tom: Yeah?   I love the name, TREWTH Ski Bibs


Tripp: You know, that was kind of our flagship product and that’s what I would be like, the bibs are where you want to be, because if you’re going to take a digger you’re going to have protection from all the snow and it’s not going to be down your pants. And it’s a super-fabric, which is really great for getting it out in the heli, and scuff guards against your skis and all that kind of stuff.

Tom:  Which jacket is best for heliskiing?

Tripp:  On the jacket side, it’s kind of more personal preference, you know. The Cosmic [above]  is kind of sleek and simple, whereas the Bellows [bellow] has like a lot of storage. So if you’re trying to bring a lot of stuff with you, then maybe the Bellows is your go-to…

heli-ski jackethelicopter skiing jacketheli skiing jacketheli ski jacket

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Tom: I think it might be because sitting here my only complaint about this one is that I don’t really have a good goggle pocket. There’s not someplace I can get in and out of it.

Tripp: Yeah.

Tom: And in the helicopter, you get about a minute and a half from when you get in and get your seatbelt on to change from goggles to glasses or vice-versa or wipe off your goggles and that kind of stuff. So it’s got to be close, it’s got to be easy, and really almost all the shells don’t have a big enough pocket.

Tripp: You’re looking for storage, the Bellows is your one, and if you’re looking for kind of like the really progressive jacket that’s going to combine the…you know, it’s really going to embody technylish, it’s the Pow Funk. It’s kind of the most stylish, youthful that’s, you know, progressive colors.  Same material. You know, it’s all the same material.


Tom: Alright. So how do you distribute? How do people get Trew gear heliskiing apparels?

Tripp: Good question. We have about 50 dealers around North America, and so you can visit or try to find a local retailer, and of course you can always find us on our website , trewgear.com.  We sell gear off our website. We have online partners like backcountry.com, where you can also get our product.

Tom: You were talking about how you got into this business.

Tripp: Yeah, sure. Um, well, I moved to Hood River (OR) to work for another small little company that maybe you’re familiar with called Shred Alert.

Tom: Oh, sure, I know Heather.

Tripp: And I got to know Heather, who owned it, through a friend. And so I was just finishing grad school and came out here to work for her. Kind of had like an entrepreneurial edge, wanted to work for a small company and try to grow or do something on my own. And so I came here, worked for her—I didn’t know anyone—and I’ve just always been a passionate outdoors person, skier particularly.

But I only worked there for about six months, and then the entrepreneurial interest was too strong and so strong I called up two really good friends who were twin brothers, John and Chris Pew. They moved out here. And we kind of had this vision for technical apparel that could be done a little bit differently, and that was kind of our only kind of guiding light. And then we just felt like, “Let’s use the top-of-the-line materials, but let’s design it from a little bit of a different perspective. Let’s focus on durability. Let’s focus on utility in terms of storage and having a lot of storage options. Let’s focus on colors and making the jackets aesthetically beautiful.” And so, just kind of rethinking…although less design for pure alpinism and a little bit more design for just skiing and snowboarding.

Tom: Yeah, yeah.

Tripp: So, it might weigh a few ounces more, “Okay, fine, maybe you’re not taking on Everest. Okay.”

Tripp: But for your everyday use of inbound, side-country and hut trips, heli-skiing – it’s going to be more than sufficient. It’s going to be ideal, kind of the ‘quiver killer.’

Tom: Yeah, I like that. And it’s kind of a lower price point than, I don’t know, Arc’Teryx or some super-premium. Is that part of the philosophy or you’re right on par, do you think?

Tripp: Well, I mean I think our goal is to offer similar quality and construction techniques and fabrics.   We don’t use Gore, and that’s pretty much the driver of the really high price points, is just that we don’t use Gore. We don’t necessarily believe that Gore is any better than anything else. I mean, I think from a performance standpoint, obviously they have done a remarkable job of marketing their brand and people recognize it and have recognition from both manufacturing and the end consumer.

Tom: That’s funny. It’s like Windows is to computers for an analogy – it’s that you pay a big premium for an OS that’s not great.   So the price of the box is way more than it should be.

Tripp: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think Gore-Tex is a good product too, but I actually think the best analogy is Intel. Intel has…you know, Gore-Tex, you don’t know what it looks like. It’s like a processor – you have no idea what it looks like, but when you walk into Best Buy you’re like, “Oh, I have an Intel processor. Must be the best.”  But you have no idea. You never see it. You don’t…you can’t… You just…it’s a component that no one sees and understands and they market it really well.

Tom: I agree with you, and I’m an Intel is my alma mater.

Tripp: Alright.

Tom: Yeah. There are a bunch of guys out there in the Gorge that are ex-Intel.

Tripp: Right, right.

Tom: Well, that’s interesting. I never thought about Gore driving up the price. It’s kind of like, in the world of audio…I can think of another analogy, but now let’s move on. It sounds like you’re pretty busy and I want to keep moving.

Tripp: Oh, no worries.

Tom: But I think Mt. Hood is a great place to test and refine clothing. And just a quick aside, I remember on a snowboard one day standing on the edge of a little precipice, and the wind was blowing so hard it blew me backwards up the hill.

Tripp: No joke.   On those winter storms, it’s like 70 MPH winds or more.

Tom: Yeah, and biting cold, a little bit heavier snow than some places, and it’s look like a moonscape. I was looking at one of your team riders and she’s standing up on what…I guess it’s Mt. Baker, but it looks like Hood, everything just covered in ice. It’s a gnarly environment, so I’m sure it’s a great place to design and test clothes.

Tripp: Yeah, it is. We get to experience a variety of weather conditions relatively close to home, everything from rain to heavy snow, and you get up high you get tons of wind. And over here we get a couple of really dry storms. We get it all, and now that we’re kind of expanding our product line.  Our heritage is in kind of the technical shells. But our product line has expanded and now we have like this, which is like a synthetic insulated garment, which is a really cool take. It’s a fully reversible and really technical piece, but done a bit differently. And you know, performance – soft shell, so it has new pieces that we’ve kind of been working on that we debuted this year. So yeah, it’s a great place to kind of test all of these things out.

soft shell heliski jacket

Cool Soft Shell – Wyeast

Tom: Cool, yeah. I got one of your soft shells [WYEAST, above, which I love], but the hard shell for heli-skiing is the sweet spot for me.

Tripp: Yeah, yeah, I totally agree.

Tom: And so do you have a powder clause? Like how much snow do you have to get on Hood before you’re allowed to take the morning off and go make turns?

Tripp: Well, we’re still pretty small little company and there’s the three of us who founded it with one other guy, and we don’t really have a policy other than going on and using gear is of value. So, you know, every day is probably not good, but when it’s good get up there and for sure.

Tom: I hear you. That’s like me with heli-skiing – I got to, I don’t have a choice.  It’s my job.

Tripp: Yeah, it’s a rough life.

Tom: And so I guess I didn’t know the Shred Alert connection in the era. Shred Alert spinoff – that sort of cracks me up.

Your design philosophy, you mentioned you do it differently, and that’s differently as in the attributes you mentioned, which were the technical yet maybe a little bit more stylish?

Tripp: You know, we have this word that we use, “Technylish,” which is technical and stylish.

Tom: I love it.

Tripp: It’s kind of one of our approaches, technylish.  Again, I mean, I think our lack of a background in technical garments has pros and cons, but when we sit down and think about a garment we don’t have the pedigree that someone who worked or has training in apparel construction who went to school for it and has worked at a big company, so we kind of just think more about what does our customer want and what do we want. And someone who had years of training might say, “Well, we can’t do that because we can’t have this price point and we can’t…you know, this is going to use too much fabric here and that doesn’t make any sense…”

It’s just when you’re free of the paradigms of someone who has a background in working in a big company with a lot of structure, we think it allows your outfit to kind of be a little bit more creative.

Tom: I think you’re exactly right. I remember at Intel when they went from the 486 to the Pentium they took a completely new team. So they didn’t use anybody who had designed in the 486 era because they wanted to avoid people saying, “Oh, you can’t do that. You can’t do it this way,” or, “That won’t work,” you know?

They wanted a fresh start, which to me, for a company that big literally betting the company on that, is mind-blowing, but I like the approach.

Tripp: Of course there are downsides and that’s that unforseen consequences of doing certain things and stuff not always working out how you envisioned it, but I think for the most part it’s a positive more than a negative.

Tom: Cool. And do you take a look at competitors? Like you’ve got Columbia sort of a neighbor here, but Columbia Acr’Teryx, North Face, the usual suspects. Do you get one of each of their jackets like an auto manufacturer does and kind of deconstruct it or see what they’ve done or are you literally starting with a blank slate?

Tripp: Um, no. We definitely obviously keep our pulse on the competitive landscape. We do a couple of other things. One, we look at like…we try to look at different information in terms of what product categories are selling well, which would be like this. So this is like the synthetic…like the Patagonia, Nano is probably their bestselling piece.

They don’t…no one really sells that many technical shells. So this is where you got to get your volume up and you got to start doing stuff. So we look at kind of like high-level, kind of what categories are doing well, but then within a category and where we’re looking at a particular piece, yeah, we definitely like deconstruct and buy other stuff. We’d borrow other people’s gear and take a look at it, deconstruct it.  And try to learn about like what people are doing and think that we can do better.

And we’re like, “Well, what if we did that?” “Yeah, for sure.” “What if we did that?” We put our little spin on it.

Tom: So is there kind of a larger market? I’m sure you look at the market in terms of volume. I’m guessing that there’s a wannabe segment of people who want to look like they’re technical, but when they go to the mall in their four-wheel drive that they never take to the mountains… So is that a big kind of sweet-spot target or is that not part of your thinking?

Tripp: No, it is. I mean, we design our products for our core customer, and hopefully by default there are people who see that and they’re like, “Ooh, I want to be that person,” and they wear our new jacket around town.

Tom: Yeah. That’s a cool logo by the way.

Tripp: Yeah, thanks. I don’t know how anyone does…or why anyone else didn’t trademark it, but they hadn’t, so.

Tom: I love the name too, actually. You know, at this point, I have a domain name company [nameboy.com] and I know how hard it is to get a domain, let alone a trademarkable, recognizable term, so it’s cool.

Tripp: Yeah, yeah, , and…I’m the T-R in Trew, and then the two guys that I work with, their last name is Pew, P-E-W, so we’re kind of Tripp and Pew put together.

Tom: Wow.  Because these days I’m seeing so many brands that are just kind of a different spelling on a recognizable term, you know, for brandability, trademarkability. So you got both going. That’s cool.

Tripp: Yeah, so.

Tom: Do you guys…you think you have a snowboard bias at Trew?

Tripp: No.  We probably sell 80% to skiers.

Tom: Oh really?  I mean, heli-boarding, not snowboarding.

Tripp: Yeah, yeah. Ah, no. We’re definitely trying to do both.

Tom: I feel like Hood had a higher percentage of boarders than a lot of mountains. Do you think that’s true or not really?

Tripp: Mmm, I don’t know how many…I don’t know.

Tom: Cool. You should hit up some of the—just unsolicited advice—hit up some of the heliskiing operators and see if they would put their guides in your gear.

Tripp: Well, we do sponsor one heli operator.

Tom: Oh. Who’s that?

Tripp: Skeena.

Tom: Oh, no kidding.

Tripp: Up in Smithers.

Tom: Sure, I have skied with Skeena Heliskiing!

Tripp: And so we provide them with their outfits, and then they buy some stuff to sell in their store.

Tom: That’s amazing. I wonder if maybe that’s how I ended up finding you guys, because I know Jake reasonably well.

Tripp: Oh, you do? Yeah.

Tom: Yeah. Yeah, I’ve been there. Have you skied with him?

Tripp: No.

Tom: You should hit him up.

Tripp: Yeah, we are getting a couple of seats.   Another thing we’re doing this year is we have this RV that we bought when we first started going. So we converted into a mobile store.  So the RV’s going around to dealers in the industry events and stuff, and one of the big…the big promotion running is if you spend 100 dollars on the RV your email gets in a raffle to win a free week of heli-skiing with Skeena.

Tom: And does the website tell you where the mobile store is going to be?

Tripp: Yup, there’s a counter in there kind of updated…you know, we’re trying to keep it fresh and updated, things we’re trying to change a little bit, but yeah, if you just go there it’s trewgear.com/tour.

Tom: So who drives that thing around?

Tripp: We kind of all do but we hired a guy to do it for the winter – between now and middle of January.

Tom: Yeah, like if he’s going to go from Jackson Hole to Telluride, “I’ll see you there.”

Tripp: Yeah, he just drives and we meet him up along the way.

Tom: That’s the way to go. It’s like a rock star tour where you just…you fly the jet and you meet the crew there with all the stuff.

Tripp: That’s right.

Tom: And does it go to ski resorts, like you would see it at a resort hanging out?

Tripp: Yeah, I mean, we’re going to kind of figure that out a little bit. I mean, you know, right now there’s no resorts – we’re just kind of going to dealers. So we’re pretty much going to be in the Northwest for this next month, and then we’re going to be in the Bay Area actually in middle of November.

We’ll be in Tahoe and Reno, and then Salt Lake, and then Colorado, Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, and then that’ll be kind of it.

Tom: That’s cool. I can get those dates out to our list and see if people will show up to meet you there. That’d be cool.

Tripp: Yeah. It’s such and interesting area, such a huge city and there’s like two or three shops that are like good shops. Lombardi’s is the one that we want to be in, probably.  California’s a weird place. [you can say that again]  There’s not a lot of independent shops anymore.

Tom: It is a weird place for that.  There’s also a great shop in Berkeley, California Ski Company, who really kind of specializes in boots but they sell gear, and I think they’re pretty good.

Tripp: Right. Yeah, there’s just not a lot of independent shops and it’s kind of like a strange situation.

Tom:  Your website says, “When geopolitical instability drives you deep into the mountains to live off the land and shred glades of private pow, the TREWTH is the only bib you’ll need.”    Who writes that stuff?  That is classic.

Tripp: Yeah. We work with this guy—he lives in Park City—who does all of our copy.

Tom: It’s just hilarious. So what’s been the hardest part about starting a brand and getting it up and going?

Tripp: Um, my, good question. A lot of things.

Tom: I actually know Chip Wilson, who started Lululemon, and I remember the manufacturing was a huge challenge because he needed money and he needed sizeable orders, he was having it done in far-off places that you had to go visit, and it was kind of a big deal.

Tripp: That’s the biggest challenge for sure, is manufacturing. It’s getting the things you want from a faraway place, and it’s the hardest thing. And you think you ought to go just kind of like give them all these specs, and they ought to be able to just whip it up.  But no.  It just takes so much effort to like oversee it…

Tom: Yeah. Distance, language, culture, money, all that stuff.

Tripp: Yeah. Yeah.

Tom: Timing. What’s been the most fun part of it?

Tripp: The most fun thing is, well, that’s a good question. I mean, obviously being out there and spending time on the mountain in the gear that you make and have people recognize that it works is a pretty darn good feeling. But I think…so that’s like, on an instinctual level, that’s the best, that’s the best feeling, is when you’re like out there using your gear and you’re like, “This is so cool.”

Tom: That is cool.

Tripp: But, you know, it’s nice to know that we’re building a brand, and we’re all really committed to growing this company and getting it…keep building. We’re still a small little company. Yet somehow we managed to create the illusion that we’re some grand huge thing.

Tom: I think that’s the goal of all startups, right? I call it Operation Blowfish where you try to look like you’re much bigger than you really are.

Tripp: Yeah, so…yeah, I think we’ve done a really good job of that and… But it’s really cool to see a brand that resonates and, you know, can keep putting out products that people want.

Tom: Yeah, that’s cool. And do you get any product feedback from Jake [Skeena Heliskiing] and his guys about the gear?

Tripp: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, we got a whole, you know, long email, maybe an attached document with all kinds of feedback.

Tom: Oh, that’s cool. He’s a great guy. Have you skied with him?

Tripp: No, haven’t.

Tom: I’ve skied with a lot of great skiers – he’s probably the best I’ve ever skied with.

Tripp: Really?

Tom: Unbelievable, yeah. I mean, for 15 years in Europe he raced moguls, and so his technique is flawless, fast, smooth. The guy is just amazing.

Tripp: I got to try to get up there.

Tom: You do have to go up there. One of the problems is he’s always booked. I mean, he’s…I almost never send anybody to Jake because by the middle of summer booked with Europeans, because he draws from that same market that he used to live in.

Tripp: Uh-huh.

Tom: And I’ll bet right now he’s got one week with any availability in the whole season.  Maybe hit him up for cancellations because you could hop up there pretty easily from Oregon.

Tripp: Yeah, we gave him gear and he’ll give us a couple of seats, but I just kind of got to be ready to make a move real quick and get up there.

Tom: Yeah. You have to be in shape. They ski fast.  Europeans don’t mess around.

Tom: So what else do you do for fun? You’re a kiteboarder?

Tripp: Kiteboarder, mountain biker, runner, and yeah, those are kind of my standard for the Gorge [Hood River Gorge, Oregon/Washington]

Tom: Yeah, it is. I was a windsurfer, a dinosaur now, but mountain biking, and I swam, I didn’t run, but I’ve just skied too many bumps, I guess.

Tripp: Mm-hmm.

Tom: So what about neon? Back in the day we used to say, “Friends don’t let friends wear dayglow,” but now it seems to be coming back.

Tripp: Um, yeah, that’s coming back a little bit. Like this year’s line we’ve featured a little like, some neon zippers and stuff.  Nothing too crazy, just kind of like little hits. I think all of the stuff is so cyclical, you know.  It just comes and goes. It’ll come back.

Tom: So I wonder how you figured that out then, like what are you designing next winter stuff?

Tripp: Oh, next winter stuff has already been designed six months, seven months ago.

Tom: I mean, 2014-15 stuff?

Tripp: Yeah, seven months ago.

Tom: No kidding?

Tripp: Were early, and we’re even behind. We’re slow at the most.

Tom: A year and a half in advance?

Tripp: Easily.

Tom: Wow, that’s amazing.

Tripp: This industry is really challenging. I mean, that’s one of the biggest things, is I don’t think many people… there’s not many startups. There’s not that many startups in technical apparel because if you spend any time doing it you realize how difficult it is.

Tom: Yeah.

Tripp: There are enormous lead times with raw materials and production takes an extremely long time, and so yeah, you have to have your sample order in by May so that they can have samples here in the fall so you could take them to your dealers, because you have to get orders from Northeast and Patagonia and Marmot their orders with their retailer…retailers have to have their orders in by December 1st basically for the following season.

Tom: Wow. What if you miss it? What if you come out with neon and that year everybody’s out of neon and you’re…is the whole company at risk?

Tripp: Yeah. It’s very difficult to try to figure all that out and, you know, a lot of these retailers.  It’s December and they haven’t even sold for the winter. They have no idea what’s selling, what’s not. I mean, it’s just a real…it’s a conundrum, the whole supply chain is slow and I think the people who can mix that up…and we’re trying to figure out a way to kind of shake that up. Selling more direct, selling more off of the website is one way to kind of combat that, because you can sell for cheaper, because you don’t have to build wholesale margins.

Tom: And…I mean that must be challenging in a couple of ways because if you cut out the retailer, then you’ll kill them off or lose them. So is that kind of a balancing act?

Tripp: Yeah, totally. I mean, you can’t do both. You can’t sell product direct off a website and at a low price and then also try to sell it retail. You have to choose.

Tom: Yeah.

Tripp: But, you know, the web is not going away, so.

Tom: Yeah, I know…

Tripp: Retailers who try to fight the web are fighting a losing battle.

Tom: And so at what point do you have to have the money to make the order?

Tripp: It depends. Everyone…I’m sure it’s all different with different organizations, and if you’re maybe more stylish you get better terms from your factories and stuff.  Typically, it’s 50% upon placing a purchase order, and then 50% upon ship.

Tom: And then are you able to borrow that from the bank like a line of credit?

Tripp: Yup.

Tom: Yeah. And where did your startup money come from?

Tripp: Mostly just friends and family.

Tom: Yeah? That’s cool. They’re probably happy now, eh?

Tripp: Yeah, yeah, I mean, like I said we’re a small little company still.  We’re not rolling in it.  I promise you that.

Tom: Yeah. Are you still looking for money then, like to go…?

Tripp: No, now we’re not.

Tom: It seems to be a constant struggle – as soon as you close one round, you have to start thinking about the next one. So it’s not nice that you’re not consumed by that. I’ve done a bunch of startups and it just seems to be the way to go – as soon as you close one round you start thinking, “Alright, our next horizon is six months out and we have to have these things done by then,” and that sort of thing.

Tripp: Yeah. Yeah, no, thankfully we’re kind of in a spot where now we’re okay. Well, we’ll see. You know, we’re all trying to grow our business a lot in the next couple of years and it’s going to require some more capital somehow probably.

Tom: Yeah, and a lot of companies can succeed themselves to death when they run out of cash.  How about production? I guess the only one that I’m all that familiar with is Arc’teryx. They seem to have a limited production. Like if you go try to order something in August-September, a lot of the good stuff in the colors that you want is already sold out.

Tripp: What do you mean, off their website?

Tom: Yeah, and so I wonder, is it a conscious decision they make to not end up with leftover inventory at the end year, they’d rather make it a little harder to get a hold of and not have anything left over, than they would build a whole bunch extra that may end up sitting around?

Tripp: Yeah. I mean, that’s smart. I mean, yeah, I don’t know…I know they do sell direct off their website but I’m not sure…you know, that’s the whole point of getting these preseason orders in December is so you make to order.

Tom: Yeah. Maybe it’s the pro deals. They only allocate so much for the pro deals.

Tripp: Oh yeah, they probably do limit the pro deal. I mean, if you’re looking at their process, they probably offer certain things depending on availability.

Tom: That makes sense. I’m curious, do you end up with stuff at the end of the year that you sell at Overstock or somewhere like that?

Tripp: The goal is no, but yeah, we typically do a little bit. Yeah.

Tom: Yeah.

Tripp: Most companies do. Managing your inventory is just so hard.

Tom: Yeah. And who decides what stuff you’re going to build and in what quantities? Like do you guys have discussions internally where you say, “I love this jacket,” and another guy says, “No, that one’s never going to sell,” and how do you decide how much of a commitment to make to that?

Tripp: Oh, we look at preseason buy.  We have a forecasting model that we plug stuff into and it gives us kind of like bell curves on sizes and based on what people are ordering, and we look at like past year’s information in terms of what sold and kind of try to equate what colors would,, “Okay, the brown from last year is equivalent to like the green this year, that one did this well, and so forth.

Tom: Damn, that sounds like an interesting challenge.

Tripp: It is.

Tom: There’s a lot of guesstimating going on.

Tripp: Very true.

Tom: So what has been the bestseller for you guys so far?

Tripp: The bib, for sure.

Tom: Yeah?

Tripp: Yeah. It’s kind of our flagship product. When we first came out with it, no one was doing a  full-on technical free-ride bib, and now everyone is doing it.

Tom: Yeah, they seemed to be just kind of bags with suspenders on them, and back in the day there was nothing to them.

Tripp: Yeah.

Tom: Like pockets and they didn’t have much in the way of features and all that. Now they’re super-high-tech.

Tripp: Now they are feature-rich for sure.

Tom: The one I ski in has kneepads, believe it or not, sewn in so when you’re kneeling to get in and out of the chopper there’s more comfy.

Tripp: Oh, excellent.

Tom: But I think that’s probably not a feature that a lot of people are going to buy.

Tripp: Who makes them?

Tom: Arc’teryx.

Tripp: They make a heli-specific pant?.

Tom: Yeah.

Tripp: Okay.

Tom: Yeah, and a guide jacket. Yeah. Again, it’s not a feature… Might be a good feature for the girls’ bib. [Laughs]

Tripp: We make a women’s bib, I’ll have to think about that.

Tom: I’ll work on the name.

Tripp: Yeah, yeah. You come up with a name.  We sell the Chariot bib but we can do a spinoff of that.

Tom: [Laughs] Chariot?

Tripp: That’s the name of our women’s bib.


Tom: Okay. I’ll work on that. [Laughs] I’m sitting down picturing the logo kind of redone in a way that would be more provocative as well.

Tripp: Right. Okay. Let’s see where you’re going with that…..

F13_THUMB_T_BLK F13_THUMB_T_GLD heliskiing logo TREW

Tom: [Laughs]

Tripp: Nice.

TREW GEAR Team Rider Shawnie Rasking gives the TREW thumbs up

Tom: I crack myself up. So let me see if I have any other interesting to ask you, because I digress. Oh, so have you ever been heli-skiing or heli-boarding?

Tripp: Well, I have, yeah.

Tom: Where did you go?

Tripp: Ah, went with SEABA in Haines, Alaska.

Tom: Oh, how was that?

Tripp: Yeah, well, amazing.

Tom: Alaska, man. Tell me, what was your reaction to it?

Tripp: It’s just…it’s unbelievable, the beauty, the mountains. I mean, it just really is remarkable and spectacular.

Tom: It is.

Tripp: And skiing when it’s…I mean, I spent a bunch of time in British Columbia on hut trips and stuff, heli and hut trips. And, I don’t know, I’m not sure what’s better, but Alaska or British Columbia has the best skiing on the planet. I’ve never skied in Europe but, yeah, there really is something else in…Just when you get up in the heli and you get up high and you can see the ice fields and just as far as you can see just massive peaks, and then you have the ocean and it’s just really incredible.

Tom: Isn’t that amazing? I have the same feeling. It is truly spectacular.  The scenery alone, it just seems like everything’s on a bigger scale.  In addition to that, it’s steep as hell, right?

Tripp: Yeah.

Tom: They probably take you to some stuff that just scares you.

Tripp: Oh yeah.

Tom: I remember standing on a peak where it wasn’t big enough for all of us to put our skis on at the same time. We had to take turns.

Tripp: Really?

Tom: And then you look all around and I couldn’t tell which way we were going down. It all looked like certain death to me. It was just amazing! And they can you stuff as steep as you want. It’s awesome.

Tripp: Yeah. No, I had the time of my life. I’ve started saving up my pennies to go to that again.

Tom: Cool. I just interviewed a guy with a new operation up there that sounded pretty cool – Black Ops.

Tripp: Yeah?

Tom: Yeah, that’ll be out, I don’t know, we’ll see in a couple of days. Hopefully the interview will be done.  But yeah, I know a bunch of the guys up there, so if you go again I’ll be happy to give you advice.

Tripp: Sweet, yeah. I just kind of met the SEABA guys, through friends of friends and met Sunny and a couple of other guys and stuff, it was an amazing trip.

Tom: Cool. Anyplace else? You said heli and hut trips, so they drop you at the beginning of the week and then come get you?

Tripp: Yup. I mean, up in Canada I’ve been in Fairy Meadows Hut, I’ve been to Ice Fall and to Swordshore.  All are heli in, so you get…yeah, for a week, you know?

Tom: Cool.

Trip: Then you tour for the whole week.

Tom: Yeah, that’s more hardcore. You don’t have as much gray hair as I do.

Tripp: I’ve started working on it…


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TREW Eagle Heliski Pant

Tom: Cool. And so where do you like to go kiting?

Tripp: I love the Coast. I mean, around here, I prefer to go up the Coast than actually the Gorge, to be honest with you.

Tom: Uh-huh.

Tripp: I like Roosevelt if I’m going to kite the Gorge out East, but I’ve traveled, um, not recently but between five and eight years ago I went to Brazil three times.

Tom: Oh wow.

Tripp: And I’ve just been down there for a week many times and amazing kiteboarding down there. Amazing windsurfing too.

Tom: Cool.

Tripp: I like to getback to a warm-weather spot.

Tom: Yeah, I heli-skied with a guy who has set up his own kiteboarding school down in Texas…

Tripp: South Padre Island, probably.

Tom: Yeah, and he has like helmets with a microphone and headphones built in and he’s got built in two-way radio, chase…

Tripp: Jet skis, yeah.  It’s a good place to learn, actually. I’ve been there a couple of times as well.

Tom: It’s shallow, right?

Tripp: Yeah, shallow. That’s a big thing for kiting. Same thing probably windsurfing, so you can stand up…if you end up downwind, you can stand up and walk back up, walk to the beach and you’re not just like flopping around in the water.

Tom: Yeah, like the Outer Banks (North Carolina) same thing.

Tripp: Yeah.

Tom: So have you guys thought about doing any crossover? I remember meeting the Da Kine founder, Rob, who had at the time of 350 SKUs. Anytime they see a problem, like they invent a little doodad to fix it. Have you thought about crossing over into summer or water sports?

Tripp: Um, a little bit but not really. I mean, we’re just trying to expand kind of our winter line and encompass kind of more lifestyle wearability, you know? Like the skis, you know, just like performance soft shells, and then next year we have like…we’re really expanding this part of our line. The stuff that people wear on a day-to-day basis, it’s not as expensive. I mean, whether it’s a 400- or a 500-dollar jacket, you know, that’s our price point for our shells, it’s not…or 700 dollars like an Arc’teryx, but it’s still pretty expensive.

Tom: Yeah.

Tripp: You know, people don’t buy that that often. So we need stuff that people even who don’t need that kind of jacket will buy.

Tom: Yeah.

Tripp: I mean, Arc’teryx is kind of the…

Tom: Price leader?

Tripp: Well, price leader, but they’re the exception to the rule.  Whereas they actually do make a lot of technical…they sell a lot of technical shells. They sell three-layer Gore-Tex shells and they make leaps and bounds more than anyone else. I mean, you’d be surprised, I mean, Patagonia has like their Super Alpine Jacket, which is a really nice jacket, it’s a three-layer Gore-Tex shell, it retails for about 600 bucks, same thing as Arc’teryx, but I bet Patagonia sells a third or a quarter or less of the amount of their technical shells that Arc’teryx sells.

Tom: It’s surprising too because I would guess the Patagonia brand is much more…has much more equity than the Arc’teryx brand with the exception of the, you know, people way out on the curve who are hardcore skiers, boarders.  Like my mom’s heard of Patagonia, right? I’m sure. But Arc’teryx, no way.

Tripp: Yeah, yeah, but I mean that’s like, you know, Patagonia makes…they don’t make a lot of money on the technical shells. They make money on their pants and their Nano Puffs and their fleeces.

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TREW Polarshift

Tom: Yeah, fleeces, right?

Tripp: It’s the day-to-day kind of stuff that’s really wearable that’s how they’re making their money.

Tom: Yeah.

Tripp: They’d still make the really technical stuff because that’s really important. I mean, that’s important for their brand, just like we would never stop making our super-technical stuff, but I think even Arc’teryx sells a lot of other stuff. They sell more technical stuff than anything else, but they still sell a lot of fleeces and, you know, whatever, other shirts and jackets. They sell other stuff too.

Tom: Yeah. I mean, my introduction to them was when my luggage didn’t show up at a heli-ski lodge and there was another dude there who had an entire Arc’teryx outfit for me to use until my stuff showed up. And I was kind of bummed that my suitcase came because it was way nicer than any of my stuff…

Tom: Hey, so fleece, are you guys into that?

Tripp: We have a new fleece issue that’s 100% made in USA. It’s kind of cool. Check it out on our website.

Tom: Okay.

Tripp: It’s called The Vaporizer.

Mens Vaporizer Fleece:


Womens Vaporizer Fleece:

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Tripp: And it’s Gore-Tex power-dry fleece. So that’s the super-high-performance-grid fleece and it comes from Massachusetts, and we did the cut-and-sew in Oregon, so it’s all made in the US.

Tom: Oh, cool.

Tripp: And so it has a great like mid layer, like right over your long johns.

Tom: Yeah.

Tripp: And it breathes really well, helps regulate temperature.

Tom: My typical heliskiing outfit is a base layer, then a thin mid layer, long-sleeve, and I’ll pack a vest in my backpack, and you get a…everybody who heli-skis now has to know how to tote a pack anyway.  If it’s cold up with the vest on, but if it’s not  That seems to work for everything because you’re in and out of the chopper so fast and you’re skiing a lot and you’re skiing five minutes between runs maybe.

Tripp: Right.

Tom: You guys make a vest?

Tripp: We have a vest coming out next year.

Tom: Cool. Next year as in 14-15?

Tripp: Yeah, 14-15.

Tom: Great.  Send one to me, please.

Tripp:  Sure.

Tom:  I can’t believe how far ahead you have to think. That’s crazy.

Tripp: Yeah, it really is crazy.

Tom: That’s mind-blowing. I mean, you’re figuring out the product line before you… Well, I guess you do know what’s sold sort of preseason.

Tripp: Yeah, I know preseason, but yeah you’re just like creating products that are…yeah, so it’s just crazy. And from a cash flow perspective, you know, it’s like it’s kind of nuts.

Tom: So you expect some of the soft shell stuff to be popular with heliskiers, too?

Tripp: Like I was saying, the Polar Shift and The Vaporizer has kind of like great layers and pieces that accompany the shells.

Tom: Alright, cool.

Tripp: Cool. Well, I really appreciate you reaching out and giving our little company a little shout-out.

Tom: Hey, my pleasure, Tripp. Nice to meet you.

Tripp: Nice to meet you, too.

Tom: Bye. Thanks, bye.

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Best Alaska Heli Skiing? Operators Debate: Valdez vs. Haines Alaska Heliskiing & Heliboarding

What is the best Alaska Heli Skiing?

Alaska heli skiing is widely varied. Geography, snow, travel, pricing models, accommodations, weather and more.  Heliski.com represents them all (let us know if we can help you decide, for free).  We are often asked to compare and contrast Haines and Valdez.  So we asked each of the Alaska heli-skiing operators to summarize how their areas compare to the others to find the best Alaska heli skiing. This post focuses on comparing and contrasting the locations for Alaska heli-skiing; primarily Chugach Heli Skiing vs Haines Heli Skiing.

On the map:

A: Alyeska Resort, (Chugach Powder Guides)

B. Valdez, H2O Guides, Valdez Heli Experience (formerly ‘Camps’)

C. Juneau / Haines, (Alaska Heliskiing, Alaska Powder Descents Heliskiing and South East Alaska Backcountry Adventures – SEABA)

D. Cordova (Points North Heli-Skiing)

E. Thompson Pass (Valdez Heli-Ski Guides and Alaska Rendezvous)

So Heliski.com asked the operators to compare and contrast the heliskiing and heliboarding in the Chugach vs. Haines.

Best Alaska Heli Skiing

What they said – Below are the highlights:

Sean Dog, owner Alaska Heliskiing (Haines):

“Last year was a prime example of the difference between Haines and Valdez, they were mostly wind hammered while we had powder snow for most of that same time period. The mountains here are stacked closer together so we have better protection from the wind and more terrain per square mile. The terrain in both areas are certainly similar because it’s all AK and super sweet. I just believe Haines can be more reliable and consistent due to its location and tighter valleys offer better wind protection and hold better snow, less wind can hit the surface and more shade from tighter valleys keep the snow cold and in good shape.

From Aaron Karitis, H2O Heli Guides (Valdez / Chugach Heli Skiing)

“Valdez is the best option for public/private heli skiing in the state of Alaska. With film segments over the past 7 years, Haines has been well represented and marketed. However, Haines is a toned down version of Valdez. With a priority on film crews, there have been rumblings from higher paying public and private clients and their priority when in the field. Valdez and the surrounding Chugach offer the biggest ridge lines, glaciers and runs in all of Alaska. This allows for more options and give guides the ability to find better snow quality, snow stability and terrain. That combined with the longest runs in the state, Valdez offers the best public and private heli skiing option in the state of Alaska.”

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H2O, in our favorite form

No Caption Needed, eh?

From Sunny, owner, Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA) (Haines)

“Valdez vs Haines?

This is a tough question that gets asked often.

At any given point the snow can be better, worse or the same. So, I think it comes down to terrain and the ability to access the terrain, especially considering weather patterns.

Haines averages 68-70% fly-able to Alpine terrain, and it averages 80% fly-able to tree terrain, Valdez does not have any trees, unless you include brush.Our tree terrain has top Landing Zone’s of 3200 feet and bottom Pickup Zone’s at 1,000 feet.

We get a lot of skiing done here in Haines because of these percentages, and our tree options. The only operation in Valdez that can really compare is Rendezvous Guides because of their location on the interior side of Thompson Pass, giving them high fly rates as well, but with very little vegetation.

Also our terrain in Haines is really stacked together, meaning we can get many combinations of runs in a short window of flight time.This includes different terrain and aspect because of the proximity of runs to each other. The Tahkinsha and Chilkat Ranges have an east/west strike so that much of our terrain is protected from direct sun, especially in mid April.

We have huge vertical, 5,000 foot descents, on average we can ski 4 groups of 4 around ten runs each a day. Our record with four groups in the field per heli is 16 runs in one day by one of the groups with 3 of those runs being first descents, for a total of 53,000 vert. This is possible because of SEABA’s knowledge of the terrain in Haines, as well as sticking to our policy of not overloading our public ship.

Haines Rocks, so does Valdez, but we do have a little better weather because we are inland and if the weather is in, then we have tree terrain to work until it clears. This limits the amount of sit time for people, which they like.

All said I would choose Haines, Alaska heli-skiing based on just that.

Ski you here!”


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Lather, Rinse, Repeat!

Cedar Dumont, co-owner Alaska Powder Descents (Junea/Haines)

As far as Southeast Alaska heli-skiing ( Haines & Juneau) vs Valdez, I first have to say that we at APD have a lot of respect for all of the Alaska heli-skiing operators..
When we started APD Heliskiing, we wanted to change a few things in the industry and one of them is to not get into our op. is better than your op.
What we believe is that all of the ops have a lot to offer it just really comes down to personal preferences and finding what suits you best.

What we have to offer is:
We are the closest heli-ski operation to the lower 48. With direct flights from Seattle you don’t have to worry missing a connecting flight or ferry.
We have the sole use of a 1 million acre US Forest Service permit for the Southern Chilkats and the Juneau ice field, no crowds or competition for lines here!
We have a rich ski community that goes back to the 1930’s that included a commercial snowcat to transport skiers. In the mid 70’s the community got together and started Eaglecrest ski area that is owned by the city of Juneau. Eaglecrest is an amazing backcountry oriented, open boundary area we utilize on weather days.
We are Juneau locals, we have built incredible relationships in our hometown and we know how to give guests the experience of a lifetime and we don’t take it lightly. Most of our guides are local as well and are proud to show off their home!
We operate out of a pristine 10 acre private waterfront lodge with heli’s out the door . No shuttles or van transfers to skiing.
When the weather does not cooperate with heli-skiing we do alternative activities with our guests. Besides skiing at Eaglecrest, we sea-kayak, whale watch, ice-climb, indoor & outdoor rock climbing, museum tours, movie theatres, bowling etc. There is always something to do and friends to do it with!
We get a little bit less sunny days, Valdez gets more windy days.
We offer the longest season of all AK heli ops. Our helicopters and pilots/mechanics are based in Juneau and fly these mountains year around. We do not have to charter a helicopter to come to our location, they are based here. We offer custom trips starting in late December up until our main operating season of February 15th- April 15th.
We offer a FULL refund on any heli time not used. You only pay for what you use!
We operate 4 groups to one helicopter. No lengthy wait times.
That is what comes to me let me know if you have any questions, hope it helps.
Talk to you soon, Cedar

Melanee Stiassny of Chugach Powder Guides (Alyeska):

“A lot of people go heli skiing for a variety of reasons. Some totally want to go somewhere remote and are willing to sit out the storm in the Lodge and wait. Others just want to ski until their legs are too tired and pray that the majority of the time spent in Alaska is in the helicopter… but definitely want good backup options for storms – they look for resort skiing and snowcat backup options. We have both options available (TML LODGE, WINTER LAKE LODGE, SEWARD are remote locations, Girdwood has resort and snowcat backup options for storm days)

There are a few ways that other operators (those in Haines included) that sell heli skiing by the run or flight time. Chugach Powder Guides sells heli-skiing by the vertical feet skied. This is an advantage to the customer since it guarantees their skis on the snow vs. airtime looking around for skiing, or short ski runs.

Another advantage here is our location in Girdwood. For our package guests we provide transportation from the Anchorage International Airport to our location. We base our operation at the Hotel Alyeska / Alyeska Resort. So on storm days there are options to ski at the resort or ski with us in the Snowcat for the day (snowcat leaves right from the Hotel). It is very easy to stay skiing no matter what the weather is doing outside. Other places may not provide transportation. They also may be more costly to get to with airplane… so although the package price they sell looks nice the cost of getting there may be higher. We are located 33 miles south of the Anchorage International Airport where all major airlines arrive.

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Our mountains are world-famous and they are dramatic and large. We are the ONLY operator in our permit area…. NO OTHER HELI OPERATORS are out there skiing the same terrain nor at the same time. There are usually competing operators in the same terrain permit area with other heli operations. Our way makes it simple for progressing through zones efficiently and making fresh ski powder runs available to each guest.

Hope this information helps you out! Please let me know if you have more questions regarding the operational differences.

See you in the Chugach”

From Kevin Quinn, co-owner, Points North Heli-Skiing (Cordova)

Alaska helicopter skiing has a lot of options. If the customer does there diligence prior to booking a trip they will find the operator that suit there needs best. The heli-skiing market in Alaska continues to grow each year with new operators showing up each spring. Currently there are now 14 different options to choose from. South East Alaska has several while most are in the South Central region.

Back in the late 80’s early 90’s Alaska helicopter skiing started in the Juneau. It ended up in Valdez do to the endless opportunities that the Chugach held. Coombs and others put the place on the map and now I can say confidently, there is no place on the planet like the Chugach. Whether you’re in Girdwood, Valdez or Cordova, it’s the Chugach. The holy grail of helicopter skiing!

Snow is the very similar in all of the locations. Just about all of the operators have a maritime snowpack. As you work your way in from the coast, you start to see more of a Continental type pack but still influenced heavily by the maritime conditions.

Bottom-line, if folks do their research properly, read forums, etc., they will find the operation that fits there needs best. Hopefully people can see through the other stuff and make and educated choice on their operator they wish choose. Personally, Cordova has been a gem for us given we are away from the 5 heli operations and 2 snowmobile operators in Valdez. We have the entire east end of the Chugach all to ourselves. Thankfully we have a very loyal following with an 85% return rate. Cordova is pretty special to us, not to mention we have a chair lift. It’s actually the oldest chairlift in North America. Additionally, PNH is a member of the United States Heli Ski Association. The US Heli Ski Association’s mission is to continue establishing (the highest) operations, guide and safety guidelines for Helicopter Skiing in the United States. Currently there are only 4 members from Alaska. PNH, CPG, VHSG and APD.

We hope to see you join us in Cordova this spring!

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Aaron Ollivier, (New) Owner

Valdez Heli Experience (formerly Valdez Heli Camps)

I’ll focus on two main aspects of the two, terrain and accessibility/ease.

In general, Haines is not as steep as the terrain you can find around Valdez. To be able to get to the more extreme terrain, you have to “punch in” a little further, if you really want to scare yourself and test your ability. In Valdez, to get on terrain that you really want to test your “pucker factor” there is more variety and it is located all over. You can go from skiing on a nice wide open 30 degree pow run on one side, and be picked up and pop over one ridge and you’re on 55 degree ramp that will make you do the pee pee dance before you drop in. I personally like the variety that Valdez has to offer a bit more, just because it’s nice to be able to have a wide spectrum of stuff to ski depending on a number of factors.

Valdez was a small fishing town before the pipeline was built. Once construction began on that, it became a boom town and experienced a lot of growth. With that came better access and generally better options to get to Valdez. After the oil spill, things have fallen off for Valdez in terms of tourism. In a recent Nov. 2011 Skiing Magazine issue, there is an article about ‘skiing could save Valdez.’ Basically, they examine the possibility of turning it into a ski town from an oil town and establish itself in that industry for the future of Valdez. Valdez’s growth has been stumped since the oil spill, and even with the town building a multi-million dollar dock to handle large cruise ships finished two years ago, only one ship has made the stop. Regardless of all that, because of the industrial activity that grew Valdez, there is better access, more heli operators, more options, more competitors and thus better deals for the skiers. In terms of skiing, Valdez has had heli-skiing longer than Haines, which means more knowledge on skiing locations/snow quality, better landing zones, etc.

Haines hasn’t been established as long and hasn’t had the infrastructure built like Valdez has. Thus, getting there is harder, having your pick of 5 different operators (like Valdez has) isn’t available, and the overall experience is typically limited to picking one heli ski company and you hope you picked the right one. Also, because the variety is more limited in Haines, you might have to fly further to find something that works for your group, which means more flying, less skiing and more money, typically. The good part about having only a couple of operators in Haines is that you have less heli’s flying around, more of a “pristine” and solitude trip. Also, you will probably find more options for first ascents because of it…pretty cool to name a run when you’re the first person to ski it!


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The Late Theo Meiners

Former President/Owner Alaska Rendezvous Lodge and Heli Guides

Comparing Valdez / Chugach Heli Skiing to Haines

Valdez side of the Chugach and the Central terrain is the largest mountain chain of the coastal mountains of Alaska. There are taller coastal mountains, Mt Fairweather, however the Chugach Range is 150 miles wide and 450 miles long. It is heavily glaciated and outside Greenland and Antarctica has the longest Tidewater glaciers, and the most glaciated coastal mountains in the world. Why? Well more snow falls in winter than can melt in the summer – the accumulation zones are enormous.

The Central Chugach are dissected by the mighty Cooper River. This gigantic river drains the St Elias, The Wrangles and the Chugach Mountains. The Cooper River canyon dissects the Chugach, but this river trench also allows the arctic air from the interior of Alaska to exit to the sea, to the gulf of Alaska. This unique geography allows arctic temperature to seep down the deep cut valleys and to interact with the maritime storms that smash into the mountains from the gulf of Alaska. As my Guides tell me the Glue!! Yes, that is the secret to steep snow stability. This effect also slows the spring warming and gives us the deepest snow pack of any coastal range in the world. My late friend Jesse Tol used to sing a jingle, he learned skiing as a child with his Dad John, on Thompson pass. He never rode a chair and was great skier, he would sing

“Go away in world, ski and see the rest but when your done come back home , to the best, come back, come back to the best  Alaska heli skiing, the original big mountains Valdez is the best”

Haines / Skagway, The Lynn channel

This area is the Chilakats and Chilacoots Mountains – the fantastic rampart of the South East Alaska Coastal Ranges. This area is also blessed with great snow falls and steep runs with surrealistic spines and features. True coastal snow pack with no arctic interface but unbelievable easy access to dreamy lines. There are also trees, but you do not ski them. That is because it gets steeper and steeper with close-outs that drop straight into the water. Use Google Earth and you will see the verticals are not as great as the Valdez. Chugach and you are in the rain forest belt of Alaska, so you will experience longer periods of no fly days due to the intense storms and coastal fog. But you will be rewarded for your patience with the do or die runs of a life time – shorter than Valdez (and that is relative), but intense. The helicopter that most companies use originates in Juneau. It’s a very short flight to Haines, so the cost of transport is considerably less than Valdez. This saving is passed on to the guest – which is a good deal! It costs more to get aircraft to Valdez, which is another reason for so many film crews staging out of Haines. It is cheaper to fly to Haines. Valdez is hard to film because of the gigantic enormous scale of the faces and flutes. Athletes tend to look like a fly on a wall, lost in the scale. In Haines the film runs are short, dramatic and easier to get film crews closer to the action. Also when the first thaws come, it is over quick on the coast because of steeps and shed avalanches, and no arctic air interface. So go early, be patient, and you will get it done. But when you’re done come back, come back to the original, the best, Valdez – the original, the king of locations .

God Bless

Warm Regards- Theo

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That’s It, Chute!

Thanks to all of the owners and operators for their candor and enthusiasm for  the best Alaska heli skiing! Let us know if we can help you put together a trip.

Best Regards,


Tom Jackson
CPO (Chief Powder Officer)

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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.



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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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.

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.


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Hey, that looks like your Powder cover shot!

Thanks, Aaron. Hope to ski with you soon!
Tom Jackson
CPO (Chief Powder Officer)

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Expert Advice – Knowledge is Powder


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Alaska Heli Skiing vs Canadian Heli Skiing — Heliski.com Reviews

Alaska Heli Skiing vs Canadian Heli Skiing

HELISKI.com Compares and Contrasts Heli Skiing Alaska vs Heli Skiing Canada

Alaska Heli Skiing vs Canadian Heli Skiing

Alaska Heli Skiing vs. Canadian Heli Skiing?  I get this question a lot from clients who want to Alaska Heli Ski.  Heli Skiing Alaska is very different from Canadian Heli Skiing.   There are stark contrasts in terrain, snow, lodging, runs, pricing, travel and amenities between Alaska heli skiing and heli skiing Canada.  The big differences heli-skiing Alaska vs heli-skiing Canada are……..

  • Heli Skiing Alaska is almost all above tree line.  Most heli-skiing in Canada has a variety of high alpine and tree skiing.   Alaska Heli Ski terrain has NO trees.
  • Heli Skiing Alaska weather is more problematic, both for travel and for skiing (I was once down for 6 days in a row in Valdez Alaska).  You may have to drive from Anchorage (5 hrs.) because the flights in and out of Valdez are canceled, often.  Alaska Heli-Ski risk….

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  • Heli Skiing Canada is more travel-friendly and more weather friendly than heli-skiing Alaska
  • Alaska heli skiing 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 in Alaska.  They claim to have terrain similar to Canadian heli skiing, but that is not where you heliski in Alaska.
  • Alaska heli skiing is beautiful and wild.  It is hard to relate the vastness of heli skiing Alaska vs heli skiing Canada.   But heli-skiing Alaska is striking!
  • We work with some great heli-skiing operators in both Canada and Alaska.
  • Heli Skiing Alaska is a later season than heli skiing Canada, because of the temps and the daylight. March is the early season for Alaska heli skiing.  April is prime time for heli-skiing Alaska

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  • Alaska heli skiing accommodations are not luxurious.  Nothing like Canadian heli skiing lodges.  Sometimes you commute from a Valdez hotel or even stay in a motor home.
  • There is an operator out of Mt. Alyeska that would allow you to ‘warm up’ before you go heli-skiing Alaska
  • Heli Skiing Alaska or Heli Boarding Alaska.  And you can ski the resort or go catskiing on down days.  Let me know if you want me to research.

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                      TJ Heli Skiing Alaska – Heliskiing and Scenery are Amazing and Dramatic

I would NOT try Alaska heli skiing for my first heliski trip, have a tight schedule or want the classic heliski lodge experience.  Heli Skiing Canada is the place to start.

I WOULD heli-skiing Alaska if I was craving steep, easy on time, patient and looking for bucket list check marks.

Let us know if you want recommendations for heli skiing Canada or Alaska, or both.

We represent all of the Heli Skiing Alaska Operators and just about every Canadian Heli Skiing Operator.

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Alaska Heli Skiing is Awesome!

Choices, Choices – A High Class Problem

I was working with some Aussies on a trip to BC next April. Three guys wanted to do a 4-day Private. We talked about the type of skiing and experience they wanted. I ended up recommending four places to consider.

One heli-skiing operator dropped out when the dates did not match up with their trip schedules.

The price tag for a private was too scary – ranging from $40K – $78K Canadian. The price does not vary for 3 vs. 4 heliskiers, making it $13K – $26K per person to heliski for four days. Ouch.

So we dialed back the fun-meter one notch to a semi-private heliski trip for three. All three heliski operators in this mix ski in three small groups per helicopter – so not much waiting. There are many aspects of the decision, including terrain, travel, snow, lodge, the other guests that week, price and more. But as for price, which pricing option looks best?

Heliskiing Operator A: $6667 per person, Unlimited Vertical Feet
Heliskiing Operator B: $6250 per person, including 62,500 feet. Extra vertical is $42/K feet.
Heliskiing Operator C: $4890 per person, including 57,500 feet. Extra vertical is $42/K feet

It’s obvious the A beats B. That time of year, the days are long. You could easily average 20K to 25K vertical feet/day helicopter skiing, and spend $700 to $1500 in extra vertical.

So, it’s unlimited heliskiing for $6667 vs. $4890 + $42 per thousand feet of vertical over 57,500.

Before we go there, you may want to read my post on the nuances of unlimited vertical heliskiing.

Strictly looking at price, the break-even is at about 100K feet, 25K/day. Above that, the Unlimited Vertical heliski outfit is best. 100K is a great 4-day trip, so Heliskiing Operator C. allows the group to control their heliskiing budget and avoid paying for vertical they may not get.

Splitting hairs? Maybe. But even a high class problem is worth solving, eh?

Alaska Heli Skiing, the time is Now

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Alaska Heli Skiing Season is MUCH later than British Columbia Heli Skiing

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!

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Conquer Untamed Wilderness: Embrace the Majesty of Alaska Heliskiing

Craving an adventure that will redefine your skiing experience? Look no further than the untamed wilds of Alaska, where towering peaks, untouched powder, and the thrill of heliskiing await. Buckle up and prepare to soar above the clouds with Alaska Heliskiing, your gateway to an unforgettable winter wonderland.

Unleash Your Inner Adventurer Heliskiing Alaska:

  • Untouched Frontier: Explore over 5 million acres of pristine terrain, including dramatic spines, glacial bowls, and endless tree runs, all accessible only by helicopter.
  • Legendary Powder: Brace yourself for legendary Alaskan snow, averaging over 400 inches annually. Powder so light and deep, you’ll feel like you’re floating on a cloud.
  • Expert Guides: Rely on the knowledge and expertise of highly trained Alaskan guides, who will lead you to secret stashes, ensure your safety, and introduce you to the region’s unique wilderness.
  • World-Class Lodges: Escape the elements and find comfort in cozy, luxurious lodges offering gourmet meals, panoramic views, and warm hospitality.
  • Valdez Heli-Skiing in the Chugach Mountains is legendary!

Beyond the Vertical Rush:

  • Heli-Hiking & Ice Climbing: Trade your skis for hiking boots and explore hidden glaciers, alpine meadows, and stunning icefalls via guided heli-hikes and ice climbing adventures.
  • Wildlife Encounters: Keep your eyes peeled for iconic Alaskan wildlife, from majestic moose and caribou to playful foxes and even the occasional glimpse of a majestic brown bear.
  • Cultural Immersion: Discover the rich history and traditions of the Alaska Native people, whose connection to the land adds another layer of depth to your wilderness experience.

Alaska Heliskiing: Perfect for:

  • Seasoned skiers and snowboarders: Test your skills on challenging terrain and discover untouched lines that will push your limits.
  • Thrill-seekers yearning for the ultimate adventure: Escape the ordinary and immerse yourself in the raw beauty and unbridled freedom of Alaskan heliskiing.
  • Powderhounds dreaming of the perfect line: Sink your teeth into the deepest, lightest powder on Earth and let the weightless exhilaration wash over you.

Fuel Your Alaskan Dream:

  • Plan your escape: Visit the Alaska Heliskiing website to browse packages, explore breathtaking videos and photos, and book your unforgettable winter odyssey.
  • Follow them on social media: Get inspired with stunning visuals, discover snow conditions, and stay updated on special offers.
  • #AlaskaHeliskiing #UntamedPowder #WildernessAdventure #HeliskiingLegends

Embrace the untamed spirit of Alaska with an unforgettable heliskiing adventure. The majestic peaks, endless powder, and breathtaking scenery await. Unclip, ascend, and conquer the Alaskan frontier!

Heli Skiing Alaska, Valdez Heli-Skiing, Chugach Mountains, Alaska

A Heli-Skiing Down Day Will Make You Think

A Heli-Skiing Down Day Will Make You Think

Years ago I was sitting in a remodeled gas station in a remote corner of British Columbia. Fog from the nearby river combined with low clouds to keep our helicopter grounded. Our hosts suggested a road trip to Alaska so that we could say we had been there……I passed.

I said to the person across from me, “I wish I could talk to someone who has been to these places before I book.” That was the genesis of the first helicopter skiing review site, HeliskiingReview.com. It offers objective reviews and advice, based on both my heli skiing experiences and those of many others.

From that modest beginning, Heliskiing Review has grown to be the biggest directory of heliskiing Canada operators. In later years, we added Alaska heliskiing, North America heliskiing and beyond.

Heliskiing is like other high-end all inclusive holidays – the experience must meet the expectations. That’s where we come in for helicopter skiing information.

This summer my partner Mike and I introduced Heliski.com, the ultimate resource for BC heliskiing and the Canadian heli ski community. It includes details on 95% of the heliskiing and heliboarding operations in the world. Heliski.com is also a community, facilitating communication and networking among those of us who love heliskiing and heliboarding.

We have added a store, newsletter, forum, pictures, videos and a Heli Finder utility to help visitors find the best trip for their group. Also new this season are partnerships with the two biggest operators – Canadian Mountain Holidays and Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing. Check it out, join Club Heliski.com and let us know what you think.

See you there,