The mountains are calling and, damn, that deep powder in the Alaskan mountain ranges sure does call the loudest.
Imagine standing at the very top of a steep Alaskan spine. There’s nothing but the mountains and yourself in front of a dreamy, untouched line. What gear should you trust to safely take you down the slope? In a saturated market, the options are endless.
Luckily, we talked to two professional heli-ski guides from Points North Heli-Adventures, who shared the gear they trust the most for everyday use in the Chugach.
Jessica Quinn and her husband own and operate Points North Heli-Adventures, one of the largest heli-ski operations in the states. Based in the small town of Cordova, Alaska, their company offers access to dreamy mountain spines throughout the Chugach wilderness. Points North has even become a staple stop in Warren Miller films, featured in 16 different segments over the years.
After traveling the world as a professional big-mountain skier, Quinn settled down into a career as a guide and owner of Points North Heli-Ski Adventures. Her recommendations for gear come from a lifetime spent in the mountains.
Here, Quinn and heli-ski guide Paul Krekow, now entering his sixth season, share their gear recommendations for safety in avalanche conditions, outerwear that withstands the elements, and hard-charging powder skis.
Note: Although they trust the gear they use, they do have sponsorships in place with Pret, Helly Hansen, Volkl, Dalbello, Bolle, and POW.
Heli-Ski Guide Skis and Boots
Volkl Revolt Skis, 121 cm Underfoot
The Volkl Revolt exemplifies that in the Alaskan mountains, “the bigger the better” rings true. The brand recommends these wide, high-performance skis only for advanced or professional skiers. Beech and poplar wood construction provides a durable core, and the slight camber and specialty-shaped rocker are ideal for steep turns in soft snow.
“The Revolts are friendly, flirty, but also sturdy and like to go fast while floating on top of any conditions — which is hopefully powder!” Quinn added.
Custom Igneous Gulo Skis, 132 cm Underfoot
Krekow rides a pair of custom-made Igneous skis, a company based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
“They are as quality a product as I’ve ever used — and my daily drivers up in Alaska,” Krekow said. “Igneous used medium-weight fiberglass and flattened out the tail a bit, which is better for digging into the snow for a rescue scenario and for while standing in a safe spot waiting for clients to ski.”
Combining a long sidecut and fully rockered shape, these skis handle steep turns in conditions from deep powder to crusty ice. The blended core of maple and fir creates a durable but light ski that can take on the added weight of a 30-pound backpack each guide carries.
It’s no easy task to find ski boots that are both high-performance and comfortable. Quinn wears the Dalbello DR2 120 to hit that balance. At 120 flex, the two-piece overlap design targets comfortable, all-day wear on the mountain.
Plus, skiers can customize both the linear and shell to contour each foot using the brand’s My Fit System. “It has the perfect amount of flex and gives me the support that I need when riding on bigger and fatter skis!” Quinn told us.
In a seemingly endless world of ski boot competition, Krekow has found the one that works best for him: the Tecnica Mach1 MV 130. “They’re stiff and fit perfectly, which is the most important thing with a good boot,” Krekow said.
At 130 flex, these boots provide stiffness professionals require for direct control from boots to skis. With the C.A.S. Custom Fit System, the Tecnica Mach 1 doesn’t compromise comfort for performance.
Heli-Ski Guide Avi Gear
What’s one piece of gear you should never go into the Chugach backcountry without? An avalanche airbag, now standard for all guides and professions in steep backcountry terrain. In case of a triggered avalanche, the wearer can deploy the airbag inside to help keep them afloat in the snow debris.
These airbags are also designed to provide additional protection from possible trauma to the head, neck, and upper body. An avi airbag doesn’t guarantee survival but does add a margin of safety.
Krekow trusts the Black Diamond JetForce Pro Pack 35L for guiding the Chugach Mountains. “The 35L size is large enough to carry all my gear for a safe and fun day in the mountains,” he said.
Designed for professionals, the versatile system has easy-to-use tool pockets, Bluetooth capabilities for updates, and Dynex material — a fiber with one of the highest strength-to-weight ratios on the planet.
Quinn, meanwhile, opts to use the Backcountry Access Float 42 Avalanche Airbag 2.0. She says this avi pack works well in the rugged and unknown terrain of Alaska thanks to easy refill options for the 2.0 air cylinder.
Its size allows her to hold gear for multiple days in the mountains, and the design includes a comfortable molded back panel, hydration sleeve, and extra room for snacks.
“I’ve really enjoyed the Backcountry Access Tracker2 Beacon that I’ve used for avalanche rescue the last few years,” Krekow told us. Though this year, he’ll be upgrading to the brand’s newest model, the Tracker3, for optimal safety gear.
Heli-Ski Guide Helmets
Pret Lyric (Women’s) & Cirque X (Men’s)
For optimal cranial safety and warmth, Pret helmets mark the choice for many guides. The ultra-lightweight shell has vent rings that allow heat to release when hiking up terrain. Meanwhile, the material inside is fitted with blended wool and recycled polyester fleece lining to keep the user dry.
“I trust it to keep my noggin protected in case something goes wrong,” Krekow said of the men’s Cirque X he wears. “The helmet is also fairly lightweight, which is nice because all the gear weighed together is quite heavy.”
“The sizing fits well, plus you can hear well. And it’s light and compatible with almost any brand of goggles,” Quinn added of her Lyric model. “Not to mention the designs and colors are fun themselves.”
Heli-Ski Guide Goggles and Gloves
For heli-ski guides, Quinn emphasized the importance of wearing goggles that don’t become iced with helicopter rotor wash, which is wind turbulence caused by the moving blades of the helicopter.
The Bolle Laika and Northstar goggles use equalizer vents, an insert between the two lenses, to eliminate any condensation buildup. The brand also employs Flow-Tech venting to create directional airflow across the inside of the lens to help prevent fogging while in use.
“These are the perfect in cold weather as a bomber-proof glove,” Quinn said. “The liner doesn’t pull out, plus the gloves have a great purchase from hand to ski pole.”
Specifically, these guides also said they love the POW Tormenta GORE-TEX Glove because of its durability at even the harshest winter conditions. The waterproof material is lined with warm polyester microfleece.
Heli-Ski Guide Outerwear
Designed for harsh conditions such as in Alaska, the Helly Hansen ULLR Powder Suit aims to guard against extreme cold and wind. With a three-layer fabric construction made of waterproof material rated above 20,000 mm H2O, this suit is designed to keep snow out and warmth in.
“You never know what kind of conditions you’ll get in Alaska, and the Powder Suit can withstand almost any weather,” Krekow said. With an additional beacon pocket sewn into the suit, this product is popular with the more stylish among backcountry guides.
Conditions in the far north can drop down to frigid temperatures in an instant. “It’s generally sunny when we fly above the treeline on glaciated terrain,” Quinn explained. “But by the end of the day, the weather becomes cold while on the glacier.”
For outerwear, she trusts the HH Powderqueen Jacket and Bib Pants to keep her warm. With two-layer construction and two-way-stretch fabric, the HH Powderqueen Jacket offers high durability without compromising movement. The Bib Pants are fully sealed at the seams with belt loops for compatibility with jacket powder skirts such as that of the HH Powderqueen.
“I don’t like snow getting in between my jacket and pants, so I always opt for bib pants!” Quinn noted.