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Heli-skiing in Alaska is a bucket-list trip for skiers everywhere. And while the weather is ideal for flying from late February through April, the conditions can be tough on gear all year long. There are long days of travel, brutal sun, strong wind, deep snow, and steep terrain. A gear failure in the field can ruin the trip, so having the right skis, outerwear, pack, and more is critical for ensuring the trip of a lifetime goes according to plan.
For my first trip to Alaska to fly with Valdez Heli Skiing Guides (VHSG), I knew I needed the best gear to make it the best trip. And this is the gear that came away from AK wanting to go back as badly as I do.
Read more about AK with Active Pass: Tsaina Reborn – Valdez Heli Ski Guides
Dynastar M Free 118
When you’re dealing with three feet of fresh powder, staying on top of the snow saves a huge amount of energy compared to pushing through it, which is why fat skis are a critical part of the AK experience. And while VHSG—as well as nearly every operation in AK—has a top-of-the-line demo fleet, I didn’t want to spend any time figuring out a pair of rental skis, so I brought my own. Designed by professional skier Richard Permin, the Dynastar M Free 118 has plenty of girth for flotation. The rockered tail makes the ski playful and maneuverable, and there’s enough camber and beef in the poplar and PU core that the M Free 118 stays completely stable during high-speed charging, too. [$900; dynastar.com]
- TIP / WAIST / TAIL (MM): 145-118-135
- LENGTHS (CM): 180, 189
- RADIUS (M): 24
Shop for the Dynastar M Free 118: Skis.com
Check out all of 2021’s best powder skis for men
Look Pivot 15 GW
Weak bindings that incorporate a lot of plastic—and tech bindings with pins—can’t always handle the heavy snow of Alaska that tends to get into tiny places and freeze, jamming up bindings at the worst time possible. Look’s Pivot 15 GW binding is made almost entirely out of metal and is engineered in a way that doesn’t get clogged, meaning you’ll be able to click in confidently at the top of every run, no matter the temperature differential between the take-off and landing zones. [$475; look-bindings.com]
Related: Best Alpine Bindings of the Year
Norrøna Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Jacket and Pants
Heli skiing in Alaska involves going from the hot lodge to a freezing summit to a scorching sun at the bottom of a run again and again and again, all day long. Having functional outerwear that practically automatically adjusts with temperature swings is crucial. The Norrøna Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro shell and pants feature Gore-Tex’s most breathable fabric, which is ideal for keeping comfortable during temperature swings, but is also waterproof, just in case things get wet and snowy (which is pretty common in Alaska). [Jacket: $699, Pants: $599; norrona.com]
All the digital layers you’ll need: Join Active Pass
Osprey Soelden Pro Pack
The Alpride E1 airbag system is still the lightest non-air canister option on the market, and combined with the Osprey Soelden Pro pack, it’s hard to dream of a better pack for heli-skiing. The pack is extra sturdy and simply built, meaning it’s easy to access the main compartment for extra layers and the safety pocket for shovel and probe. Plus, the system is super travel-friendly, doubling as an ideal carry-on option for flights to Anchorage and Valdez. [$1,200; osprey.com]
Related: 2021 Editor’s Choice Gear
Thule Chasm Rolling Duffel
After the wheels literally came off during an overseas trip in college, I’ve been hesitant to use wheeled luggage ever since. But that changed after a successful trip with this bag from Colorado to Alaska and back that involved big planes, little planes, and transfers between vehicles. The Thule Chasm Rolling Duffel features oversized—and overbuilt—wheels and a telescoping handle, plus weather-resistant tarpaulin fabric that handled a slight drizzle on the tarmac in Seattle with ease. While the 110-liter capacity can hold everything but the kitchen sink, the Chasm duffel is a bit heavy, meaning you’ll want to make sure you weigh everything before arriving at the airport, or you’ll pay a price. [$330; thule.com]
Buy the Thule Chasm Rolling Duffel: Amazon
Related: Best Travel Bags for Skiers
SPOT X GPS Device
Perched in a helicopter thousands of feet above a glacier, it’s easy to see that Alaska is big. Like, really big. So, whenever we’d land or have a minute of waiting for a pickup, I’d mark the crew’s location using the Spot X GPS device so it would be easy to see where we skied throughout the day after the trip was over. The device connects via Bluetooth to most smartphones as well, so you can leave the device in your bag and check-in just before snapping photos to really make memories. [$250; Spot X]
Purchase on Amazon: Spot X
Related: Rescue Devices Explained
Purl Ice 9 Natural All-Temp Wax
Ski bases tend to ice up in the heli basket, which can be annoying to scrape off when standing in a precarious spot after the heli flies away. The best way to avoid frozen bases is to make sure your skis are freshly waxed and scraped every day before flying. Purl’s Ice 9 Natural wax is the perfect size to bring to AK, and most heli ops—including VHSG—have a bench to wax and scrape. Ask permission before using the bench, and reap the benefits of fast skis afterward. [$14; purlwax.com]
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