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Considered the birthplace of the Alaska heli skiing industry, Valdez is home to five different guided heli ski operations. Each operation is similar in that they all can offer that life-changing Alaska heli-skiing experience, yet each is unique in the amenities they offer, their locations, down-day activities, and even the terrain they access.
It’s quickest and easiest to get to Valdez by commuter plane from Anchorage. However, service can be spotty due to weather. If you want to drive or are planning to RV it, it’s a scenic six-hour push (depending on weather) from Anchorage. The original town of Valdez was wiped out by a tsunami in the ’60s. The town site was moved down the coastline to a safer place, and by virtue, Valdez lacks some of the classic Alaskan fishing village charm you’ll find in other coastal AK towns. But you’re not here to see classic old architecture; you’re here to ride, and in that regard there is still an element of can’t-miss in a trip to Valdez. Regardless of where you go, you have a chance for that run of a lifetime, and maybe several. Here’s a quick rundown of who offers what in the place Teton Gravity Research dubbed The Dream Factory.
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According to legend, Doug Coombs started the idea behind Valdez Heli Ski Guides by hanging a flyer on the wall of the Tsaina Lodge offering to guide skiers down the daunting peaks surrounding Thompson Pass. This was during the early ’90s, when skiers and snowboarders were first discovering the area and paying local helicopter companies to bump them to the top of peaks. The Tsaina, then just a small roadside bar and inn, was ground zero for the heli scene at this time. After sitting idle for a few years, the lodge has since been rebuilt into a luxury hotel, and VHSG returned to its roots, operating out the lodge. Clients stay in the 32-person, completely remodeled and rebuilt hotel (the original bar remains), and the helicopter pad is located in the parking lot. A seven-day package includes seven nights, all meals (tips and booze not included), ground transportation to and from the airport, ski rentals, safety equipment and 36 runs (30 guaranteed), and goes for $10,390. Five-day, four-day, and three day packages are also available, or you can stay somewhere else and still heli ski for $1,100 a day, depending upon availability. On no-fly days, VHSG offers cat skiing, also right from the Tsaina.
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Started by former World Extreme Skiing Champion Dean Cummings, H2O is entering its 21st season. Lodging for their premier all-inclusive packages is at the Best Western Valdez Harbor Inn, where the offices for the operation are also located. Guests are shuttled by van from the hotel to staging areas where the helicopters are located. A seven-day package includes lodging, breakfast, and lunch, ground transportation, 30 runs (27 guaranteed), and travel insurance, and costs $7,389 (double occupancy). Private helicopters, daily rates, and heli-assisted touring and splitboarding options are also available. The operation hosts a mechanized skiing guide school, one of the first of its kind, that has helped feed qualified guides into operations throughout Alaska.
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Alaska Rendezvous operates out of its lodge just down the Richardson Highway from Thompson Pass. Featuring eight rooms, a restaurant, and a tavern, the Alaska Rendezvous Lodge has an intimate, classic Alaska feel. The helicopters take off from the parking lot. RV parking with full hookups, trash, and showers is available for $25 a night. For skiing, Rendezvous only offers weekly, Saturday-to-Saturday packages ($9,905, double occupancy), or you can pay by the day with no lodging or amenities included ($1,050). Weekly packages include seven nights of lodging, all meals, airport transportation, safety equipment, ski rental, and 36 runs (30 guaranteed). Private charters are also available. On no-fly days, ARL offers cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, dog sledding, and snowshoeing.
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One of the newer Valdez heli ski operators, Black Ops Valdez isn’t necessarily the least experienced. The operation was started by several veterans of Valdez heli skiing, and has grown since 2008 from just a lodge, to a cat operation, and now a cat and heli operation. BOV is based out of the Robe Lodge, a six to 10 person mountain lodge between Valdez and Thompson Pass. Rather than offer run limits, BOV charges by HOBBS time—which is basically the time the helicopter is in flight. An hour of flight time is $1,200 and usually equals four to eight runs, depending on how far you have to fly to get to the zone you are skiing that day. A seven-day package includes meals, lodging, and five hours of HOBBS time, and goes for $8,550. On no-fly days, BOV offers a litany of activities, including cat skiing, snowmobile skiing, boat tours, and firearm shooting. Call or check their website before booking, as these may require extra charges.
Alaska Snowboard Guides is another new operation started and run by Valdez heli veterans. Most of their guides have been riding Valdez since the ’90s. The most affordable of the Valdez heli ski options, ASG fills the rootsy/core niche for snowboarders and skiers that Alaska Backcountry Adventures left vacant when that operation shut down in 2011. ASG operates from ABA’s former operations base at mile 29.5 near the top of Thompson Pass, but has added two more pick up zones so you can get to a lot of terrain without burning through your heli time, and just recently obtained a permit to operate a second base area at Mile 17.5, where Valdez Heli Ski Camps used to base. They offer packages catering to RVers, with parking available at the helipad ($4395 for four hours of flight time, roughly 24 runs, over 7 days), but also feature an inclusive option with Valdez lodging partner Chugach Suites (starting at $4895, and includes lodging, ground transportation and breakfast). ASG doesn’t offer packages shorter than a week (“We do not offer shorter packages because we feel they are unrealistic and often leave customers frustrated due to weather,” says owner Dave Geis). They do offer a daily rate for walk-ups on weeks that aren’t completely booked.
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