Black Ops Valdez

In the six years since its inception, this heli operation has set itself apart as the premier player in the region through a simple commitment: Treat everyone like family.


[/vc_column_text][vc_separator border_width=”4″ el_width=”70″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]When asked what sets Black Ops Valdez apart from other heli-cat operations in Alaska, founder Josh Swierk’s response is straight to the point.

“We’re a family business,” Swierk says.

Though it might seem odd to refer to a sprawling heli op with multiple birds, snowcats and even a massive 96-foot yacht (with an onboard helipad) in the same vein as your local mom-and-pop ice cream stand, Swierk isn’t being hyperbolic: The business was founded by he and his wife Tabatha back in 2012 and now includes their six- and eight-year-old daughters.

“As a family we do everything with our kids and have since they were born,” says Swierk. “All of our trips, travel, work days, adventures: It all includes our kids. They have been heli-skiing since the ages of 3 and 5, so they have had some unique experiences for kids so young. Our clients love seeing the kids around our lodge and heli base, and think it’s super rad that they have been around it since such a young age.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Swierk and Tabatha met back in 1998 at the University of Maine, Orono during a fire drill in their communal dorm, and after a one-month trip to the Last Frontier in 2004, the couple sold their house in Maine, packed up everything they owned, and moved way across the country.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]They immediately dove into the heli skiing world. Swierk was the maintenance guy for the original Tsiana Lodge while Tabatha worked in the lodge. After eight years of wetting their feet they were ready to jump in headfirst using, appropriately, a lodge they had built themselves as their homebase for operations.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”stretch_row_content”][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”87674″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]“After eight years of seeing how things could be done differently, we saw an opportunity,” said Swierk. “With the record snow year of 2012 and some private work for TGR we chose to fill a void in the Valdez industry after two operations went out of business and another chose not to operate the next year.”

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In the time since, Black Ops has expanded considerably, setting themselves apart not just for the variety of terrain they can access by air, but for treating their customers more as family than patrons: Black Ops offered more down day activities than other outfits, became the first outfit in the area to own and charter its own yacht and–importantly–was the first outfit in the area to quantify the services they offered by total flight time instead of things like total vertical skied or total runs.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]“Ultimately, you aren’t paying for ski runs, you’re paying for Hobbs, or flight time,” says Swierk. “You are paying for time spent flying up the terrain, and we’ve found that more honestly and directly relates to the vertical you’re skiing. Since we started measuring Hobbs time, many operations have come around to it.”

That familial quality is evident not just in the hospitality provided by Black Ops, but by those who have stayed with the company.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_separator border_width=”4″ el_width=”70″][ultimate_info_table design_style=”design06″ color_scheme=”custom” color_bg_main=”#ffffff” color_txt_main=”#4a4a4a” color_bg_highlight=”#556a99″ color_txt_highlight=”#ffffff” package_heading=”STAT SHEET” package_sub_heading=”Black Ops Valdez by the numbers” heading_font_size=”desktop:26px;” subheading_font_size=”desktop:24px;”]

Average Annual Snowfall: 540 inches
Years Operating: 7
Terrain Accessed: “Unlimited” (w/ yacht)
Annual Snowfall: 1,200 inches
Guest-to-Guide Ratio: 4:1
Lodging On-Site: Yes
Single Heli Drops: Yes
Heli/Cat Types: Heli: A-Star 350 B3; Cats: Thiokol Sprytes, Bombardier
Longest Run: 6,500 vertical feet
Closest Airport: Valdez (VDZ), 10 min.

[/ultimate_info_table][vc_separator border_width=”4″ el_width=”70″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”stretch_row_content”][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”87675″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”stretch_row_content”][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”87672″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]“I feel that the amount of experience and knowledge from past guiding is really important, not only for safety and the guest experience, but also for the all-around smoothness in running our operation,” Swierk says about the value of keeping experienced talent around. “There’s just certain things that guides with more experience will know. They’ll know where to find better snow based on which direction the wind is blowing, they’ll know the approximate time of day that the sun is going to be hitting slopes facing a certain direction at a certain time of the season.”

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]And while the company places a clear emphasis on hiring and keeping employees with longstanding professional backgrounds in the area, Swierk stresses that a huge reason for Black Ops’ success isn’t an attachment to the past but rather a constant focus on the future. He says, each year Black Ops strives to add something new–in the past few years alone they’ve added a fleet of snow-machines for guests to use, became the only Alaska heli op to offer down day firearm shooting, gained permits for seven different snowcats and started running private cruises and boat-based trips on their yacht (aptly named “Dreamcatcher”).

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]“Obviously, it’s impossible to guarantee amazing conditions and in turn, 100 percent positive experiences with a weather-dependent business,” says Swierk. “But we genuinely try to treat all our guests, whether new or returning, how we would want to be treated on a trip like this.”

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