‘The Pucker Factor’- Heli Skiing and Heli Boarding Valdez, Alaska
As I sit here on the plane, on the long flight home from Valdez Alaska, I am literally brimming with blogs that I can’t wait to write about my adventures up here. To think that for the Easter holiday in the UK, I considered going to Marrakech instead of AK. Unbelievable to me now, given how epic it’s been.
This was to be my 4th trip across the Atlantic this year, to explore amazing heli skiing options. But when Matt White, heliskier, owner and operator of Valdez Helicamps suggested I hit it at Easter, he was spot on with his timings. The conditions were excellent.
The journey to Alaska is part of the adventure, changing airports in Seattle and Anchorage, I met some interesting people enroute for heli skiing. on the way in.
From the moment I arrived in Valdez, I was surrounded by the friendliest, funniest, and warmest people around- staff and clients alike. I met with Matt, his staff, and Dave his mate who started heli skiing in AK, but the story of how they got started is another blog post altogether.
And it quickly becomes evident, -everyone’s here for pretty much the same reason- to get ‘The Pucker Factor’. Let me illustrate:
Although a London-based Australian, surprisingly, I hadn’t come across this term before in my skiing career. But it was pretty self explanatory in the context it was uttered. You see we’d just been heli-dropped on a ‘toe-in’ landing, which is a landing space so small on the top of an exposed Alaskan Chugach peak that only the heli body fits.
The pilot has to very carefully hover, allowing for the gradually decreasing weight as the skiers gently hop out one by one to avoid lop-sided spills.
Once the heli flew off, we had to carefully click on our skis or boards in the narrow space that the heli vacated, and then Barney, our guide edged us towards the entry point for a 43 degree powder chute.
As Barney, took his bearings, and readied to brief us on how to ski this thing, there was a bewildered uttering from my new friend, ‘Hippie Texan’ fellow group member Bernard of ‘Oh boy, the Pucker Factor’s pretty up there now’ (pronounced in thick Texan drawl).
Bewildered by the sensory overload of all of the events of the last 10 minutes combined with the anticipation of what we were about to do, Bernard shared with us his rectal tension at that very moment – a nervous tightening to be precise.
Suffice to say, as usual, Barney skied the chute first, instructing us precisely where, what and how to ski it safely, and then to follow one by one. This time, the guys politely offered if I wanted to ski first. (Normally it is a case of shotgun after the guide, but for some reason this time they were happy for me to go first). So, I was up first, and honestly, once I got in there and committed, it was the sweetest, steepest, powder turning experience ever- kind of like biting into a chocolate with a delicious soft centre. True! A long run out at the bottom gave us a great stopping point from which to take pictures of the whole affair.
Yes, it was powdery inside, just like a chocolate with a deliciously soft centre.
In case you didn’t know it, in the world of heli skiing and heli boarding, Alaska is, and has always been the ultimate destination. Watch any ski-porn movie, and you will see AK featured almost always. It’s the only place in the world that allows such extreme skiing owing to the steep Chugach mountains, the more stable coastal snowpack, and the attraction of a culture of safely pushing the boundaries of skiing.
The WESC or World Extreme Skiing Championships were born in Valdez Alaska, in 1999, and over time, although they paused for a bit, they have progressively nurtured a new form of free, big mountain skiing that made names like Scott Schmidt, Kent Kreitler, (and the late) Shane McConkey, and Doug Coombs world famous.
And so, it is with this noble heritage, and thanks to the dedicated commitment by operators like Valdez Helicamps for providing epic adventures with managed risk for maximum safety, that the every day punters, (like you and me) can realize our dreams of coming to Alaska and experiencing our very own ‘Pucker Factor’. Heck this place should come with a general surgeons warning LOL..