February 29, 2015

So you want to be a Heli Guide?

Feb 28, 2015 | guide stories |


Every year the offices of heli ski companies throughout Alaska receive numerous resumes from highly skilled men and women who want to guide heli skiing. Every guide in the industry has at least considered guiding up here, and why not, this is the big league. The mountains of Alaska offer, by far, the best skiing in the United States. Helicopter access to the lines you’ve seen in the ski movies and a brand new lodge to come home to every night, all paint a picture of the Dream Job. And what a job it is. I never feel more like a guide than I do while working in Alaska. Sitting in the front seat of the helicopter choosing a run, you have to make so many decisions, client ability, snow stability, snow quality, can we land here, can we get out of the helicopter there, where do we enter the run, what are my islands of safety, what is the fuel status, where are the other guides going to ski, where will the helicopter pick us up? Then get back in the helicopter and do it again. It has often been said the downhill is the easy part, and I couldn’t agree more.IMG_0810


I recently had a conversation with a guide who was interested in guiding for a heli ski company in Alaska. He told me he wasn’t going to take the job because the owner wanted him to do “a lot of other work that wasn’t guide work”. I was curious what work could they have possibly wanted him to do that wasn’t guide work? In fifteen years of guiding heli skiing I have worked every possible job you can imagine. A fair bit of those jobs actually revolved around guiding, ski tuning, base radio operator, driving vehicles, fueling helicopters, cutting alders, and delivering countless safety briefings. Guiding in Alaska is usually done at a remote lodge; this creates a special circumstance of needing all employees to help out around the base area. When not guiding I have shoveled snow, washed dishes, pumped diesel, cleaned diesel spills, shoveled snow, carried luggage, been a bouncer in the bar, shoveled snow, chipped ice, chipped dirt, and I’ve been sent on countless town errand missions which can be another adventure all in itself.001


But perhaps my favorite job we have had was during the years when the lodge was closed. We had a small building at the heli pad for the clients to get prepared for the day after the drive up from town. We also supplied portable toilets for the clients at the heli pad; we referred to these toilets as the Blue Room’s. If you have ever had the pleasure of using a portable toilet in the winter you know what a pleasant experience it can be. What you may not know is that the waste that is deposited into these toilets would freeze and forms a pyramid of pooh. This pyramid would periodically need to be knocked down to make more room. I remember vividly watching a conversation between one of our long time guides and a relatively new yet incredibly accomplished young guide. The young guide refused to do this job. He felt this wasn’t the job he was hired for. The older more experienced guide simply walked past him, grabbed a stick and said, “We all stir the Blue Room”.clueland 3-12-12 010


The first week of the heli ski season is all about set up and training. Most of the week I do not see the inside of a helicopter or a snowcat but I have been to our storage unit, opened about a thousand boxes, moved some of those boxes three or maybe four times, helped resurrect a van that has more lives then Stephen King’s infamous Christine, shoveled snow, somehow managed to track down all of my gear that I left here last summer, dangled off of a cliff practicing my crevasse rescue skills, shoveled snow in the mountains for helicopter landing zones and digging snow pits to evaluate the snowpack, and thousands of other menial tasks that can be more dangerous than any mountain I have ever ridden down. One year during set up I was helping jack up a building with a small bottle jack that we had found in the back seat of car. While I watched this jack far exceed its structural weight limit, I was thinking about what all my friends back home always say to me before I leave to head to Alaska. “Be safe up there”. This has to be what they were referring to.


So, when this guide told me his possible employer wanted him to do a lot of other work that wasn’t guide work, I told him there is no way he should take that job. If they wanted him to do things that are beyond the scope of guide work, it probably can’t be done!IMGP1810



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Jamie Weeks


Wilson, Wyoming