After years of negotiating for permits, Chugach Powder Guides (CPG) finally secured permission in 2004 to open almost 150,000 acres in Seattle Creek, an area of 50-plus-degree lines about six miles from its home base in Girdwood, Alaska. Not that CPG was hurting for untracked snow before - the 10-year-old outfit already flew guests to a million-plus acres, "a shit-ton of terrain," as owner Chris Owens likes to call it. More acreage means less downtime. When the weather rolls in, instead of leaving guests to memorize the pattern of the hotel carpet, guides whisk their groups to yet another microclimate. Of course, this being Alaska, there are no guarantees. The Chugach can get pounded with 1,300 inches of snow in a single winter, and when big storms rage, the birds stay in the hangar. But unlike most Alaskan heli operations, this one's based at a world-class ski resort (Alyeska), so you'll be skiing all that new snow - instead of drinking domestic beer and watching Fuel TV in your room.
MAX ELEVATION: 6,500 feet
MAX VERTICAL DROP: 5,000 feet
AVERAGE VERTICAL PER DAY: 20,000 feet
PRICE: $3,620 to $6,050 for five to seven days of skiing; $775 for a single day
GETTING THERE: Fly into Anchorage, where a CPG shuttle will pick you up and take you to either Girdwood (40 minutes) or Seward (90 minutes). If you're skiing in the Tordrillo Mountains, CPG arranges a 40-minute ski-plane ride from Anchorage.
INFO: 907-783-4354; chugachpowderguides.com
Sticky coastal snow pounds the Chugach, making for a fairly bomber base - but with so many drainages and aspects, stability runs the gamut. If you book at the Tordrillo Mountains, you'll see twice as much accumulation and more clear days: Storms rush in from Cook Inlet, hit hard and fast, and then split.
One million acres means an obscene amount of variety. A given run could start with a two-lane-wide, 50-degree couloir, then pass by crevasses, roll into an open bowl, and wind up in steep trees. If you're staying in Girdwood, ask to hit the Twentymile zone, with spine walls and bowls the size of resorts. Then head to the glaciers of Seattle Creek. Book at Seward and you'll dodge rock spires and catch views of North Gulf Coast fjords on lines like Soap on a Rope and Cornhole.
With the push of a Japanese sea current, enormous warm and wet systems motor across the Gulf of Alaska and collide with frigid fronts from interior AK - conveniently, right over the Chugach. Want the most light snow? Book in February (and risk more down days).
CPG's guides have studied college-level snow science, led avy-control routes at resorts, written protocol for the Utah Avalanche Center, and received paramedic certification. Everyone has 10-plus years of big mountain guiding experience.
Weeklong packages include lodging at the Alyeska Prince Hotel, a 307-room megalodge at the base of Alyeska Resort with ski shops and a half-dozen restaurants and bars. The new Tordrillo Lodge, 60 miles west of Anchorage, comes with a resident chef and perches over the Talachulitna River.
In Girdwood, stop by the Double Musky for 20-ounce steaks and Cajun grub like shrimp étouffée. Or try the short-rib pot pie or lamb curry in the town's newest restaurant, Maxine's.
BANG FOR BUCK
With access to a thousand acres of tree shots and steep rollers, CPG's cat operation serves as backup when the Chugach is swamped by heavy clouds. It costs an extra $350, but you're guaranteed a seat for the week.
There are only four trips apiece to Seward and the Tordrillos each season, so make your reservations as soon as you can. Otherwise, make do with pioneering lines in Seattle Creek.