When CPG was founded in 1997, the company was awarded a special use permit to operate on the Chugach National Forest. That initial permit was around 250,000 acres. While some of this terrain had been skied by backcountry users and prior iterations of heli ski operations, much of the permit was still yet to be explored. Over the next two decades, CPG skied, named and pioneered the the terrain through countless days of guiding.
The process of opening a new run can happen a number of different ways. Many of the classics reveal themselves upon first flight into a valley, while others require a bit more creativity. There are a lot of factors to consider when opening a run, and it’s not uncommon for a guide to wait years for the right combination of snow, weather and group dynamics to make a certain route possible. Not only that, but the terrain is constantly changing. Height of snow, temperature and glacial movement all contribute to variation in terrain from year to year. Sometimes new crevasses will open up and a run that previously had a clean runout no longer does, or we’ll have a deep snow year and can suddenly ski a run that hasn’t been possible for some time. After 25 years we still find new routes and new ways to ski variations in our core areas.
While the original 250,000 acres hold a lifetime of skiing, curiosity and adventurous spirit within the guide staff began to drive the company further from base into the state land south and north of Girdwood. 60 miles south, the town of Seward sits at the head of Resurrection Bay on the Pacific Ocean. CPG first heli skied in Seward around 2005, and its now a favorite destination for guests seeking a completely unique experience with incomparable ocean views. In Seward you can enjoy all the steep and deep skiing that AK is famous for, and then land the heli on a remote beach and eat lunch by the ocean. It’s a uniquely Alaskan experience that no words or pictures can do justice to.
To the north, the edge of the National Forest permit ends at the head of the 20 mile valley. Beyond the permit, Lake George lays at the base of several large glaciers surrounded by towering peaks. The greater Lake George area contains absolutely stunning glacial scenery and an abundance of great runs. CPG skis in this area quite often nowadays, as it is often a respite from the stormy weather closer to the ocean.
Going even further north, we began crossing the Knik glacier and exploring the northern Chugach in 2013. As you travel further inland you get closer to the tallest peaks in the range, including the highest point in the Chugach, Mount Marcus Baker (13,176 ft.). Up north we find the same steep, long runs the Chugach is famous for, but with a slightly different geology and “look” to the mountains. Venues like Friday Creek, Metal Creek and Grasshopper Valley contain everything from steep chutes to big faces and cruiser pow laps.
Even farther to the north, we cross the Glenn Highway and enter the Talkeetna Mountains. In 2014 we began exploring the Talkeetnas, and it’s now a regular part of the program. The Talkeetnas are an entirely different range than the Chugach and provide a unique and different ski experience. A bit rockier and with slightly less snow on average, the Talkeetnas have some great featured skiing with dramatic ridge lines and sharp peaks. Again, when the weather is bad in the Chugach, the Talkeetnas provide another venue to ski for our private charter guests.
From the Talkeetnas to Seward, there is far more terrain than anyone could ski in a lifetime. Putting a number on the size of our tenure is next to impossible. We could throw out an acreage estimate based on the square miles, but that wouldn’t accommodate the glaciated areas that are un-skiable, the lakes and rivers and the valley bottoms. The reality is we have an enormous, constantly-growing tenure that is far too big and complex to measure. It is common occurrence for guides that have been with CPG for many years to ski a new run, or an entirely new zone on any given day.
Access to the further reaches of our tenure is partially determined by our different package options. For day skiing, we generally stay closer to home. As you get into our 4 day package and private charter options, you get the opportunity to fly further and explore the other zones. This doesn’t take away from the day skiing, as the terrain close to home is just as good as the farther stuff, but you gain flexibility and a higher fly rate when you book a package or private charter. It also allows for new and different experiences for our returning guests. We have many private charter guests that have been skiing with us for years, and they still get to ski in new places each year.
Regardless of which product you come for, you will get to experience the wild and enormous mountains of Alaska. Heli skiing in AK is an adventure and no two days are ever the same. This is what keeps guides and guests coming back year after year.