ADVANCED TO EXPERT

Alaska is where pro skiers and guides go to test themselves on world-class peaks. Just 45 minutes from Anchorage is Alyeska, a resort that helps the rest of us make that transition to big-mountain backcountry terrain. Basically, its in-bounds 3,200 vertical feet and 650 inches of snowfall per year are the perfect warmup for the real reason to make the trip from the Lower 48: Chugach Powder Guides.

CPG, one of the best in the continental U.S., is Alyeska's partner in cat- and heli-skiing. Cat trips access endless virgin tree runs and bowls, and the helicopter gets you above tree line and onto steeper faces. But CPG isn't just there to babysit. "The first thing we try to teach," says CPG lead guide Henry Munter, "is a healthy respect for, and patience with, the mountains. They're the ones in charge." Working with beacons, shovels, and probes in real time, and, more important, watching the world's top guides work, is the best backcountry class of all.

More information: Day of heli-skiing, $1,175; day of cat-skiing, $375; chugachpowderguides.com, ­alyeskaresort.com.