In a pilot, I like a man of few words—a Chesley B. Sullenberger III “brace for impact” type who lets his flying speak for itself. Silence lets you know he is concentrating. When he speaks up, you know it’s important. So I like our ski-plane pilot, Drake Olsen. When he says stay nearby, I don’t need to be told twice.
I am skinning laps a few miles inland from Haines, Alaska, in the Coast range with Alaska Mountain Guides. My buddies and I blew our budget on two days of heli-skiing in Skagway, so we came south to eke out another day up high—an airplane’s flight time in Alaska costs a fraction of a helicopter’s, but the skiing is every bit as spectacular. A thousand feet below, Olsen’s blue Cessna 182 is a toy on the glacier, but I can still see him, squatting on the snow beneath the wing, eyeing the roiling clouds in the narrow exit to the crown of massive peaks around us. It’s a marginal day, and heavy weather is in the forecast.