Backcountry Heli Snowboarding in the Alaskan Mountains
Six months ago the team here at Pure Brandz were lucky enough to be introduced to Alexa Hohenberg - previously described as a women who 'glides, rides, jumps and pumps!' She is the founder of StillStoked - an inspiring action sport website and is also the creator of 'Snowballs' a 2004 action sport film which became part of a huge movement in the UK for women in sport. The list is almost endless on what this girl has achieved but today all we want to talk about is ALASKA!!!
Lured by its breathtaking mountain ranges, endless bounty of untouched powder and the chance to ride some of the planet’s most isolated and challenging terrains, Alexa Hohenberg strapped on her snowboard to go off-trail and experience heli-boarding in the spectacular Alaskan wilderness earlier this year.
1. There are a few different tour groups to travel to Alaska with.... why did you pick Points North?
One of the many great things about Points North is they are the only heliski operator out of Cordova. This means you won't see other groups from other operations flying around and poaching the lines you have been dreaming about the night before. It's an intimate experience of just you and 3 helicopters serving a few small groups. The terrain they have access to is world-class (and not far from base so saves on heli fuel = more runs!). It is exactly what you see in all the movies (they have a segment in every year's Warren Miller film, check it out here). The operation is also all inclusive, meaning everything from your board, food, snacks and safety equipment to down day activities is included in the price (very reasonable when you compare against other operations). Mostly though, what I love about it is the people. Everyone is there to ski and ski hard. It's a no frills operation and that attracts my kind of people, those that like to get after it and send it. The staff there feel like my extended family and each year all the friends I've made try to align weeks so we can all catch up.
2. Was it easy to meet people (would you go alone or with friends)?
Absolutely. I have made some incredible friends in the last two years there. So many people go alone or in a small group. Ideally if you can go in a group of 4, you will fill a heli along with your guide (I'm taking a crew of girls this year with Still Stoked so get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are keen to come in our group!). You will be paired with other rad people of a similar standard. The unique experiences that you will have over the week will mean you will form the strongest bonds. I've just had one guide and a PNH guest visit me in Australia from California and I'm heading over to the states to couch surf my way around California, Utah and Colorado calling on everyone I've met. As I said, it feels like an extended family. I'm incredibly grateful to have met the people that I have through PNH and riding in Alaska. I spend 11 months of the year just trying to get back there and do it all again.
3. How experienced do you actually have to be to board the mountaintops of Alaska?
I honestly think it would be a waste to go there and not want to get after it so be true to yourself about how comfortable and experienced you are skiing steep terrain and powder snow. Saying that, there are definitely more mellow riding options and the amazing guides there will show you the runs of your life no matter what level you are at. One of my favourites areas in the zone (Targetto) isn't steep or challenging but the terrain is so playful, it's as memorable as the steeper lines of OZ and Nailed It. Some days or afternoons you just want something chill. You tell your guide and they make it happen. You have 1,500 square miles of terrain to chose from. It's your own magical playground.
4. How were your rest days? What other cool stuff did you do in Alaska?
When considering to go to Alaska you have to be aware that there is a chance that the weather will roll in and you won't be able to fly into the zone to ski. I manage this risk by going for two weeks but understandably not everyone can afford that luxury (of time or money). The down days can be almost as fun, in fact this year some of my best memories were from my down days. There is no shortage of stuff to do: glacier ice climbing, kayaking to waterfalls surrounding the PNH base (base is RIGHT on the Prince William sound), hiking to the many surrounding lakes or glaciers, dodgeball at the local gym with the guides and locals. The owner Quinner loves his crossfit so there is often some intense exercise classes going on in the gym area at base. I also just love kicking it with my camera checking out all the amazing wildlife (otters, eagles, rugged Alaskan men!). I'm known to spend a lot of time in the homemade sauna at base called the Blaze King, embarrassingly they named me the blaze queen after I brought a water gun that we could use to cool off. It's great to get in there and stretch and catching up with everyone on how rad their day was. You can also jump straight in the FREEZING ocean - just as good as an ice bath to sort your muscles out for the next day.
5. Were there any fun surprises on your trip?
Haha yes definitely, this year was full of them though the juicy ones I'm keeping secret ;-)
I was honoured that Quinner the owner gave me and my riding buddy and cousin Matt the green light to ride Pontoon. Pontoon is one of the big 5 mountains in the Chugach and is on everyone's list after a few years riding the zone. It's definitely the jewel in the crown, towering above all the other mountains around it. It is STEEP at 67 degrees for 700ft, all over huge exposure, or that's what I've been told (with the intention to scare the hell out of me). Serious NO FALL ZONE and if snowboarding you need to ride with an ice axe. Quinner gave me a surprise briefing after breakfast one morning much to everyone's amusement, "get your game face on Alexa!". I was equally terrified and excited. More terrified. We didn't get to land that day as it was too windy up there (we did Pontoon's exit couloir instead which is ridiculously steep over significant exposure/cliffs). I'll get it one year when the conditions are right. It's an honor to have their trust in my riding ability to be given that option in future.
Famed for its heart-pounding descents, Mount Marcus Baker is the highest peak in the Chugach Mountains, rising over 4,000 metres from sea level. To put that into perspective for snow lovers down under, that’s almost double the height of Mount Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest mountain at 2,228 metres.
Prince William Sound is a scenic wonderland in the heart of the Chugach Mountains offering over 10,000 square miles of dense spruce forests, quaint islands, impressive fjords, protected waterways, and massive glaciers. Abundant wildlife make the region a hot spot for bird spotters, seals and whale watchers. Once known as the "Razor Clam Capital of the World", Cordova is a small town lying just to the east where you can stock up on supplies and grab a bite. Don’t expect any clams tho, the industry was destroyed by overharvesting and a huge earthquake.
Thanks to Alexa for sharing... keep an eye out for our next feature on Alexa coming soon but in the mean time you can follow Alexa on Instagram, and read her latest guide to splitboarding on the Still Stoked blog. :)