When it comes to a successful backcountry experience, knowledge is king. Whether you’re picking your line, setting up your camp or cooking a warm meal at the end of the day, doing it safely, effectively and enjoyably is what will keep you coming back for more. While people have spent years honing these skills in the backcountry, you can expedite that process with a new backcountry program being offered by Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA).
Situated in the iconic town of Haines, SEABA has been offering guided heli-skiing for 14 years and will add this new service to its repertoire in early 2017. The fully immersive learning experience will teach the necessary skills to safely travel, ski and camp off the grid, whether it be in the incredible Chilkat Mountains that surround Haines or within your favorite range in the lower 48.
Though it may feel like a world away, the backcountry zone that will play host to the new program is conveniently located just a few miles outside of town, close to SEABA’s regular flight path; this makes it easy for guests to get there and also to keep the base well- managed. It’s accessible via ski touring, yet the heli-drop option will surely appeal to most. In fact, if weather conditions line up, you can get dropped off on top of a picturesque peak and ski down to your accommodations. The exact lodgings are to be determined as of the publishing date, though rumors of a yurt-like structure are circulating.
“The experience is geared towards intermediate backcountry users… people who are looking to get out there without dumping a couple grand into the gear that’s necessary for backcountry and overnight experiences,” explains Scott “Sunny” Sundberg, founder of SEABA. “Our intent is to educate while we ski, teaching people about route selection, snowpack, etc. We’ll also be offering level 1 and 2 [avalanche training] in the late spring.” The location is set to offer full 4G service, enabling guides to pull resources from the internet and teach people in a manner consistent with avalanche courses that utilize classroom time, but in a much more desirable setting. The guest-to-guide ratio will be kept at four-to-one and a full house will be 10 people, including guides.
Learning the skills to stay safe in avalanche terrain is only one part of this program, because if you can’t stay warm and eat well while you’re out there, you’re not going to have a good time. Thus, a large part of the new SEABA experience will be acquiring the basic skills and nuances that go along with winter camping.
“Some of the education will go into showing people how to set up kitchens in the backcountry. What foods work, what foods don’t and what you should carry,” explains Sundberg. “We might spoil people a little while they’re up there but we’ll be putting emphasis on what you should be taking with you. We’ll demonstrate cooking, but also illustrate the proper gear and how to use it effectively and efficiently.”
The spoiling he refers to is the fact SEABA’s backcountry facility will be fully stocked with gear, food and a nice kitchen setup to deliver all the calories needed for your adventure. Hearty breakfasts will include bagels, scrambles and pancakes off the griddle while the dinner menu will feature various proteins like salmon, chicken and pork, along with tasty vegan options.
As for the most fun part, the accessible ski terrain is chock-full of north-facing lines located just outside of SEABA’s heli tenure. This means that you won’t be competing with people that are heli-skiing but you do have the option to tour into that zone if there’s a particular face calling your name. Regular touring access will get you all the way up to 5,400 feet when the weather is clear while tree skiing extends down to 1,200 feet so you can keep ripping even when the clouds roll in.
“We’ve obviously seen a growth in backcountry users and, if anything, [this program] helps create more awareness and more skills. It also helps our staff round out their abilities and stay in the mountains more, which they’re pretty excited about,” says Sundberg. “As time goes on we’ll expand the program but as a starter we’re building something for people who come to Haines and don’t have a full budget for heli-skiing. People who maybe want a day in the heli and then something else.”
All-in-all, the program will provide a solid foundation for skiers who want to learn the abilities necessary to guide themselves in the backcountry. From route finding and snowpack assessment, to camping, cooking and everything in between, the professional guides at SEABA will have you dialed on what it takes to have a successful pow-slaying adventure wherever you please.
If this sounds like something for you, head over to seaba-heli.com for a full schedule. The program will kick off in spring 2017 and two-night packages will start around $550, including heli-transportation to and from your new favorite camp spot.