This story starts with a series of random coincidences, a kind of bizarre journey and the making of many new friends. It was 6 in the afternoon and I was sitting at Heathrow airport waiting to depart for Vancouver. I was a ball of nervous energy, my first real adventurous travel in some time all framed in by an uncertainty of what my next few years would hold. Then I saw what I thought was a familiar face, a guy called Nic Mattia, waiting for the same plane. Turns out it wasn’t him, and I was once again occupied by my thoughts and music, for some reason though I knew I would see fake Nic again soon. Boarding was called and as always I wait till everyone is  boarded, then casually walk over and ask if there is a seat on first class for me. There wasn’t as usual but one day there will be. Anyway as I made my way towards my seat I realised my assumption was correct and as I sat in my allocated seat, I introduced myself to fake Nic, who was actually named Michal Osinin and was allocated in the seat next to mine. As always the normal questions of where are you going and what are you doing, followed the introductions and after very little talking we realised we were not only off to the same place, but the exact same course, The Alaska Heli-Skiing Guide School. Now it doesn’t seem all that special in print but when you consider that only 18 people are in the course, they make there pilgrimages from Germany, Austria, England, Australia, Czech Republic, Norway and so on and so forth, and they all arrive at different times in Alaska, there is approximately 10-20 flights leaving three of London’s airports and also roughly 450 seats on the particular aircraft I was travelling on, there must be a one in a million chance of meeting this person, before I arrived at the course.

This was the start of our pilgrimage, 2 fish in a big pond of ski bums making their annual migration to Haines, AK. Some may have already left and some may be leaving later, for some it would be the first time (ie. Michal and Myself) for some it would be the 20th, we will travel by train, car, plane, boat and helicopter and we will cover between us over a 1/2 million travelling kilometers. We are ski bums, but we are also mechanics, chefs, cricket bat makers, doctors, lawyers, bankers, digger operators, hunting guides and artists. We are here to learn not only about the snow but about ourselves. I am going to continue this exploration in a series of stories, interviews and photos of the characters involved,  in the hope of collecting enough information to apply for some independent funding to make a documentary about this strange cultural migration we make. I’ll keep you all posted and this story will become far more interesting, I guarantee it!

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………….. working in sluff management, however,Kate Knott is……………….

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In the anticipation of endless trophy lines and blower powder I think that people who come to Alaska to ski, generally forget that this industry relies on perfect storms and optimum weather patterns, of which Haines is experiencing neither at this point in time.  That doesn’t mean however, that days should be spent moping around whinging that this place sucks whilst sat in-front of a computer watching the weather patterns in the lower 48 where you have just come from. You aren’t there and no amount of snow fall there is going to make your trip to Alaska any better!!

Pack some lunch and go for a walk, there are limitless amounts of trail heads to an infinite amount of amazing bays, lakes, peaks and coves to visit. Alaska is a vast wilderness, full of amazing flora and fauna, who knows what you may run into. For example yesterday I went up to Chilkoot Lake and at the inlet we saw a family of seals enjoying the fish trapped in the outflow. They were super stoked but not as stoked as we were, to be seeing them in action. All this happened under the watchful eyes of a couple of bald eagles and any number of Moose hiding in the edge of the forest, and shadowed by the youngest mountain range in the world carved out by receding glaciers in the last 10-15000 years.

Mother Nature rules up here, she sculpts those amazing lines you see in the ski films and she also blurs the parameters of reality when it comes to these visions we see. She provides  infinite wisdom and humbles us with her power on a daily basis. Go immerse yourself in her glow and for her sake, just forget about heli-skiing for a day!

Down Days…………

March 3, 2011

It’s -20 out, the winds howling, the jobs that need doing are done and the helicopter is definitely not going anywhere today, so what do you do? Guide School is over and those 6am starts are no longer mandatory, there are any number of ways to spend those 12 hour days that were spent learning and uploading information to your cerebral cortex.

Maybe some beacon practice, I’ve got a big backyard at the trailer and there are multiple burial avalanches going down there nearly everyday. Get your friends, get some stuff bags and go bury some beacons and practice your efficiency at finding one or more at a time, one day it could make a difference at saving one of your best buddies lives. Fingers crossed it doesn’t ever get to that, but if it does you want to know you are giving them every chance at survival.

So now your on the brink of frostbite, and you think your nose is about to fall off, what to do next? How bout cruise on over to 33 mile, get yourself a coffee and chat to some of the guides. They are a wealth of information on all things Haines. Snow reports, up-coming events and general knowledge is what you’ll find here and it never hurts to make some new friends.

That done and your guides are growing tired of you endless questioning, get a shovel and start building some form of ghetto terrain park. Your hours of hard work will be rewarded with down day skiing, jibbing and bonking and hopefully not an injury. Plus all your friends will love coming over and hanging out, chatting shit and maybe even getting a nice photo to send home to their friends of some gnar shreddage in the backyard.

Exhausted?? Go home and cook yourself some dinner, read a book, watch a ski flick or play some cards. Then go outside build a huge fire and throw some sacrificial skis on it, the snow gods will undoubtedly love you for it and provide you with a week of bottomless powder…. or maybe not…… just make sure they’re someone elses skis!!