By definition, once-in-a-lifetime experiences almost always seem to have commensurately once-in-a-lifetime price tags. And at first glance Chugach Powder Guide’s Kings & Corn trip fits the bill, weighing in at nearly $10,000 for a five-day stay. And ye, if ever there were an example of when prudence should be damned, it’s with this singularly indulgent, spectacular adventure: an intense tag team of back-and-forth heli-skiing and King Salmon fishing stints during the nearly 24 hours of sunlight during Alaska’s glorious summer solstice. It’s one of the best weeks we’ve spent anywhere.
Waking up in one of the five well-appointed personal cabins at CPG’s summer base camp, Winterlake Lodge, a helicopter awaits on the front lawn. Before long, we’re enjoying spectacular 3,000-vertical-foot runs of perfect corn snow in Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountains – while wearing a T-shirt in the middle of June. It is awesome, and it is still just the first part of the adventure.
After slaying turns in the buttery smooth snow all morning (and thanks to the freeze-thaw cycle of early summer in Alaska, we didn’t have to worry about avalanches), we took a little break and ate a seasonal lunch of fresh trout and summer salad at Winterlake’s beautiful main lodge, on the edge of a two-mile lake. Remote enough to serve as a checkpoint during the Iditarod, Winterlake is only accessible by float- or ski-plane or helicopter, yet has every modern amenity you could think of. Not that you’d have much time to kick back and take in a movie though: After a 15-minute quick change from ski boots to waders, we were back out and at it again. And in another 15 minutes, we’d already hooked our first King Salmon. This was not unusual apparently, thanks to the help of some of the best fishing guides anywhere, and so we spent our entire afternoon on the Skwentna River System – which meanders through the imposing shadow of 20,000-foot Mt. McKinley – dragging in burly, feisty 35- to 50-pound King Salmon. Big, aggressive, and easily pissed off, the Kings bite often and pull hard. Our arms felt like noodles after a few hours.
This is Alaska, though, and despite the exhaustive, ultralong days, during the summer months the action doesn’t stop at the end of the day. So after dinner some nights, when the conditions were just right, Zach Crist – a big mountain skier, X-Games champion, and CPG’s resident guide – fired up the helicopter and off we went to go skiing under the midnight sun. It’s the type of experience that sounds so otherwordly and odd as to be fake. That is until you’re standing on top of a mountain and the snow turns pink below you, with an alpenglow that lasts for hours, and you check your watch and see that it’s 10 pm. Suddenly, you realize that you’ve already skied 30,000 vertical feet and caught a half-dozen 40-pound monster King Salmon today.
By the end of our five-day trip, it truly felt as though we’d been there for 10 days and there was still a boatload of activities available that we never even got around to, like wakeboarding on the lake at Winterlake lodge or a heli-accessed whitewater raft trip. Simply put, Kings & Corn is a trip unlike any other we’ve been on: It’s like combining the best fishing outing you’ve ever imagined with the most insane ski trip you could dream of, then adding 24 hours of sunshine to make sure that you get to do as much of both as humanly possible. So the questions is: Is it worth such a hefty price tag? Yes. Every damn penny. [$9,500; chugachpowderguides.com]