Guide ships are fun, it’s where a qualified guide, in this case Ted Purdy, lead guide of Alaska Heliskiing, takes a bunch of up for it trainees out in the field to go get some realistic, steep and dangerous experience. It’s a way for us to learn and a way for the guides to judge and assess our ability as skiers and leaders. On this particular day Ted along with Lucas Merli (a shredder from Juneau with more mountain experience at 21 years old than most of us will ever have) took three of this years guide-schoolers (Roland Griel, Douglas Lawton and Myself) out to some ‘real’ terrain, places where clients rarely go and in this case two faces that had only ever been skied by professional skiers with film crews.

Puckering is a word that best describes the two faces, one chute with a slightly hourglass shape that starts off on a 50 degree pitch slowly mellowing into 45 and runs for nearly 2500 feet. This is called 50/50 chute, if you watch MSP’s In Deep you will see Henrik Winstedt tomahawk down this face whilst racing Daron Rahlves. To the lookers right of this chute on the other side of the cliff wall is a second chute called 25/50 and this is where my story really starts.

We were all buzzing from a successful descent of 50/50, all safely down at the pick-up zone. Lucas had set off a small reactive pocket, which I also released again from above the hangfire, but luckily we both stayed above it as the slides although small in weight ran full length of the chute at high speed (100km an hour plus)  It was then at the bottom of 50/50 we all assessed 25/50 and as a group decided it was time to drop that fucker. Although the landing zone is very pleasant in comparison to the stomach wrenching clifftop landing for 50/50 it is a far narrower and steeper chute that is probably 50 degree pitch for 2000 vertical feet with a split blind entry over a big convexity. I was pumped and nervous at the same time. This is the sort of thing I came here to ski and it was time to step up to the plate. Three skiers cut the top to check the stability and got to their safe point where the whole chute becomes visible and then sent it, all reports where great snow and lots of sluff.

My turn, I dropped onto the convexity and unloaded it before cutting hard across the chute to get to my island of safety but as I hit the previous cut lines I hit rock hard base and my rails went from under me and as this happened I got blasted by the soft slab I set off on top. As I flipeed the first time my speed doubled and I realised I could be in big trouble, after the second and third flip one of my skis had popped and I was still in the midst of the slide and still going very quickly. Luckily for me the way I landed meant that the ski on my downhill leg had stayed on and allowed me to bite that edge in and start to swim off the top of the sluff, with a combination of ski and swim I got out to the right side of the chute and out of the fall line of the sluff which continued to run the 1500 feet left in the chute.

The guys at the bottom had seen the sluff and the ski I lost run out of the chute but no skier, Ted had seen me go down but due to his position couldn’t see me either. I yelled up to Ted to let him know I was alright but had lost a ski and then I gathered my thoughts briefly before side stepping down the chute another 250 feet towards the possible location of the ski which Lucas had intuitively eyeballed until it stopped. With good radio communication from Lucas I finally dropped down to where he thought the ski was and could just see the toe piece of the binding popping out of the snow. I got that thing on as quick as I could, took a breath and skied as fast as my nerves and my shaking legs could carry me to the pickup zone where my friends were happy to hear I was uninjured perhaps with the exception of my ego. This was the fifth run of a day filled with good skiing and scary big faces, the guides had done their work with the professionalism you would expect from the best in the world and we all loaded the heli home safe, stoked and alive.

The biggest problem for me now is I need to get back to 25/50 and ski that thing again, the mountain showed me who was boss that day and we have a small score to settle now.

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