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Sure, learning new things is cool and all. But this year, I want to learn to forget things for a change. I want a total escape. I want corn couloirs. The smell of sunscreen. Fresh oysters and beers on the deck. A thwapping helicopter. A pristine river with 60-pound king salmon to wrestle in on a fly rod. Jet skis. Throw in a shirtless Tommy Moe diving into the lake in his jeans, and I’m not even sure what day it is anymore.
Welcome to the summertime Cast and Carve session—heli fishing and skiing—at Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountain Lodge.
It’s day two here, and we’re lounging and eating in the sun in our ski socks on Alaskan tundra. We spent the morning carving perfect corn couloirs into huge valleys stacked with 30-mile-long glaciers. Mike Overcast, who owns the lodge with Moe and Greg Harms, points at a tiny patch of delicate purple flowers. “That’s saxifrage,” he says. “It’s native to Alaska.”
Our group consists of six roofers from Cincinnati, each of whom might be the funniest person I’ve ever met and who, all together, are downright scandalous. There’s one other woman named Dawn, an artist who rips so hard I keep wondering, “Who is this chick?” Moe’s sister-in-law, it turns out. Figures. Some of us are skiers, and some of us are anglers, and we separate into groups accordingly.
The terrain is unreal. Or surreal, I should say, with pinnacles of rock, chasms of snow, and waterfalls everywhere. “Looks like Lord of the Rings up here, eh?” Moe says at the top of a narrow “coulie” in his singsong voice. We arc down it, gathering speed as it opens up, and see some black dots that might be people beneath us. It’s late afternoon now, a few runs after lunch, and it’s so warm we girls are skiing in tank tops. We slice huge turns through the wide-open velvet to the bottom, where the other group—the nonskiers—are cheering for us.
If you’re wondering what nonskiers do while heli skiing in Alaska, look no further than the gun rack mounted on the back. The guides carry side arms when fishing on account of the grizzlies, and shotguns when skiing on account of nonskiing clients tired of falling down. Which brings us to one of many universal AK truths: If you’re standing around doing nothing, you shoot stuff.
The sun is still bright as midday, but it’s almost five o’clock. Our legs are fried and it’s time for cocktails. We land the heli and walk across the green lawn in ski boots, a phenomenon I can’t get over, and then retire for beers on the deck. The lake glints in the sun and we can smell Chef Brendan’s veal shank roasting in the oven.
We drink gorgeous Russian River reds and get to know each other. (Moe keeps his Olympic gold medal in his sock drawer. Harms set the world record for most vert skied continuously out of a heli—161,000 feet. One of the two identical twin roofers, George, tricked a judge and made his brother Rick spend a night in jail for him. Al, another roofer, explains his perfect coif. “I saw The Hangover and liked the dude’s hair,” he says in a classic Cleveland accent. “I love Vegas, you know. So I went for it.”)
Then the question arises: What do you do in Alaska when it’s 11 p.m., still bright out, and no one is anywhere near ready to go to sleep? Rip around the lake on jet skis, naturally. This is summer camp for adults—and it’s way too much fun to go to bed.
Back on the dock, we watch the moon rise through a stand of pines and recap watching the cow moose swim across the lake earlier. The guys are on fire, and they head inside for more beer to take to the sauna. But it’s late, and we’re fishing on the Talachulitna in the morning—5,000 fish per river mile, accessible only by helicopter—so I figure it’s probably time to head to bed.
I put on PJs and walk down to the bar to forage for a bottle of water. I hear footsteps on the stairs. It’s Dawn, in a bikini, towel around her waist. She takes one look at me sneaking to bed and says, “You have 30 seconds to get your suit on.” Before I can argue my valid, totally logical point about it being 1 a.m., she points out another universal truth around here: “You’re in Alaska. You can sleep when you go home.”
The hell with logic. I make it back downstairs in 25 flat.