Cigar Aficionado

Yacht-Based Heli-Skiing
Photo: Tim Bouchard/Black Ops Valdez

For avid skiers, heli-skiing is the sport's Holy Grail. It promises deep unbroken powder on every run, all day long as well as no crowds and no lift lines—in fact, no lifts. That means more time going down, less time going up, and even the time aloft is spectacular, something people pay top dollar to do all around the world just for the scenery—except skiers do it eight to 10 times a day in some of the most stunning settings on earth. Hardly anyplace has bad heli-skiing, but few destinations are more acclaimed than Alaska, with famously reliable snowfall, first-world safety and aviation standards and thousands of square miles of dramatic, varied terrain. It's all long descents and stunning vistas, from knife-edged peaks to glaciers to coastal fjords.

But even in this alpine paradise, some options stand above the others, and it is hard to beat the uniquely decadent yacht-based operation offered by Black Ops, a veteran outfitter headquartered in Alaska's heli-ski capital of Valdez. While most companies use remote mountain lodges or rustic cabins, this new package for 2017 includes accommodations aboard the 72-foot Christian, sailing on Prince William Sound. A seven-night private trip mixes incredible skiing with creature comforts, taking off directly from the yacht and returning guests to its deck—just steps from the open air aft hot tub, where tired legs can recover while watching the glaciers go by. The helicopter, a best of breed A-Star B-350, provides skiers and snowboarders access to the most remote slopes in the Chugach Mountains, 2,500 square miles of mountains and glaciated terrain which average more than 1,000 inches of snow each winter. Where you ski is customizable for your group's desires, with terrain suitable for intermediate to advanced skiers and snowboarders and runs ranging from 2,500 to 6,000 vertical feet.

A seven-night private trip mixes incredible skiing with creature comforts, taking off directly from the yacht and returning guests to its deck—just steps from the open air aft hot tub, where tired legs can recover while watching the glaciers go by.
A seven-night private trip mixes incredible skiing with creature comforts, taking off directly from the yacht and returning guests to its deck—just steps from the open air aft hot tub, where tired legs can recover while watching the glaciers go by.

The yacht has deluxe accommodations for up to eight people, and the package includes 14 hours of flight time, with additional hours available for purchase. Two professional heli-ski guides (some outfits use one, but front and back is safer) are always on hand. All other yacht-based activities, including fishing and kayaking, are included, as are all meals—such as fresh wild Copper River salmon—and all beverages. Cutting-edge safety gear including airbag packs, beacons, harnesses, shovels and probes are also provided. Rates start at $89,600 a week.

Black Ops also runs one of the poshest lodge-based heli operations in the state, Robe Lake Lodge, a log chalet built in 2008, complete with hot tub, sauna, Internet, satellite TV, private chef and panoramic views. With just six rooms, the lodge is ideal for six to 10-person private groups. For 2017 the company is adding a more adventurous option, a new remote helicopter accessed ski-touring basecamp in the Chugach outside Thompson Pass, using Arctic Oven heated tents, made in Alaska to withstand extreme conditions. Of course, there's always the yacht.

Visit blackopsvaldez.com