Valdez is legend. It has some of the steepest, deepest, gnarliest and burliest snow-riding terrain anywhere in the world.
At inland ski resorts in, say, Colorado, dry powder barely clings to 50-degree inclines; here in the coastal Chugach Mountains, the sopping-wet flakes glue to angles of 60-plus-degrees, creating ski slopes where elsewhere there’d be cliffs. Factor in 1000in of snow per winter and mountains that descend 7000ft from peak to sea, and you’ve got a ski bum’s version of Eden.
The season lasts only from February to the end of April. And because helicopters often get grounded due to poor weather (or you need to find safe terrain because of avalanche danger), it's recommended that you schedule at least five days for a trip, expecting that you'll get three or four days of great turns.
The operations will provide you with a knowledgeable guide, along with avalanche equipment including a beacon, shovel, probe and air-bag pack. Expect an average of six runs a day. That's more than enough to leave your quads pulverized.
Heli-skiing is for advanced and expert skiers only. And while your guides know this terrain well, avalanches do happen (though the heavy maritime snow generally creates consistent, stable snow pack). It still pays to know how to use your beacon and have some understanding of safe backcountry travel – your guides will give you tutorials when you get there. Get up-to-date avalanche information at www.avalanche.org.
- Points North Heli Adventures Based in Cordova where it organizes all-inclusive ski-lodging packages out of the Orca Adventure Lodge.
- H20 Heli-Guides Has seven-day helicopter-skiing packages with or without lodging from $5729 in the Chugach Mountains from late February to late April.
- Valdez Heli-Ski Guides If extreme skiing down 6200ft runs tickles your fancy, check out these guys, who offer a day of heli-skiing (usually six runs) for $1350, plus lodge-ski packages for three to seven days for $4744 to $11,076. For advanced skiers only. Accommodation is in the lovely Tsaina Lodge.
The glacial Lowe River, 12 miles from Valdez, cuts through impressive Keystone Canyon. A popular trip is to raft the relatively easy class III rapids through sheer canyon walls and cascading waterfalls. The highlight is a stop to look at Bridal Veil Falls, which drops 900ft from the canyon walls. Pangaea Adventures offers a three-hour raft down the river for $89.
The waters around Valdez are a kayaker’s paradise. People sticking to the bay will be rewarded with views of seagulls fighting over cannery offal for the first hour or so and it's worthwhile heading out with a guided outfit or water taxi. Independent kayakers should be aware of no-go zones around the pipeline terminal and moving tankers; contact the US Coast Guard for current regulations.
Only experienced paddlers should attempt to paddle the open water from Valdez Arm to the Columbia Glacier, a multiday trip. Anadyr Adventures can arrange for a drop-off and pickup near the glacier, or a full-on guided trip.
One good day hike and another potential two-day excursion start from Valdez town. There are several other excellent trails in Keystone Canyon, starting roughly 12 miles from Valdez on the Richardson Hwy.