An Interview with Alaska Backcountry Guides Owner, Joey Wolf
Dreaming of traveling? Adventure mavens are foaming at the mouth to get out of their homes and off on an exploration. With borders to Canada closed and much of the world shuttered to Americans, travelers are looking within the US to quench their thirst. Alaska Backcountry Guides (“ABG”) seeks to draw you in and offer you the experience of a lifetime.
Joey Wolf, originally hailing from Chicago and currently residing in Utah, has worked tirelessly over the course of the last 10 months to launch Alaska’s newest heli skiing and boarding operation. On their site Joey’s bio describes him as “diehard, passionate, and experienced heliskier” and after our conversation with him we can attest he is exactly that. Alaska Backcountry Guides is filling a blank space in Valdez that used to be the home to H20 Heli Skiing which shuttered a few years ago and was owned and operated by the now infamous Dean Cummings.
conSKIerge co-founder, Charlotte, had an opportunity to speak with Joey and learn more about the operation. Read the complete interview below.
conSKIerge: Why start Alaska Backcountry Guides?
ABG: There is a clear hole in the industry with H20 no longer operating out of the Valdez airport and personally felt like there wasn’t a product offering from operators in the area that I was looking for as a skier. The options in Alaska either offer an elite, private heli-skiing experience at an astronomical cost or multiple, large groups all sharing one helicopter. ABG wants to offer a middle-ground providing a semi-private heli experience.
conSKIerge: What is the goal of ABG?
ABG: Provide an unforgettable experience for skiers and snowboarders. People expect what they see in the annual ski movies. That’s a difficult experience to deliver on, but what we seek to provide. We’re aiming to offer skiers a customized experience that will have them coming back for years to come.
conSKIerge: You mention group size, how will ABG manage groups?
ABG: Two groups of three or four people each with three guides, a total of a maximum 10 people each day, sharing one helicopter. This allows for a tailored experience for you and your group. It also makes it easier to move around the terrain and into new zones throughout the course of a day. This also allows us to be dynamic, if one group wants to ski the steep stuff we can get them on that type of terrain, but also provide the other group what they’re looking for in a day of skiing.
Guests have two options for housing while with us. We have a house in town on Blueberry Hill, overlooking ocean bay and a glacier area – which comes with our private chef, Margaret. Alternatively, guests traveling in smaller groups can stay at hotels in the town of Valdez.
conSKIerge: When is the Alaska heli season? And when is the best time to go?
ABG: Our season will run from March 8th through May 2nd. Early season in Alaska is cold, you can ski all aspects and the days are shorter. As the season progresses, you can have a more full day, the sun can cook the snow later in the season. I’d say the first two weeks of April are historically the most popular in Alaska.
conSKIerge: Tell us about the terrain.
ABG: Alaska is not just for extreme skiers. There is actually a lot more intermediate terrain in Alaska than most people think. It’s vast and open glacial terrain, with no trees and peaks as far as your eye can see. Roughly 20% of the terrain is steep, complicated high expert terrain and the other 80% is intermediate glacier skiing, think a double blue on a perfect powder day.
conSKIerge: What has consumed the most of your time in getting this operation setup?
ABG: Safety considerations and regulations are crucial as we prepare for our inaugural season. We’ve written our own operations manual following the frameworks from the American and Canadian Avalanche Associations. Our lead guide, Dan Vandermeulen, is an Alaska local with 23 years of experience in snow safety and as a ski guide.
We’ve contracted out the flying with Alpine Air. They’ve been flying in Alaska for nearly 30 years and recently purchased a new helicopter with a renewed interest in getting back into heliskiing. Working with Alpine Air provides dependability, they have hangers in three of the major airports in Alaska, with easy access to mechanics, fuel, etc.
conSKIerge: How is COVID-19 affecting business? What are the Alaska travel restrictions right now?
ABG: Travelers either must have a negative covid test within 72 hours of arrival, or quarantine for 14 days. In Valdez, you can take a test right at the airport when you land. We test our staff and guides every week and have a doctor in the town of valdez to facilitate the tests. We will continue to track the virus spread and protocols within the state of Alaska to ensure we’re adhering to all standards.
conSKIerge: Anything else you want readers and prospective ABG clients to know?
ABG: Our core motivation at Alaska Backcountry Guides is to provide a wildly fun outdoor experience. We want to deliver on your expectations, operationally execute with no hiccups and provide our clients with an exceptional opportunity that they’ve been starved of. The pressure is on and we cannot wait to get flying on March 8th
Ready to book? Us too. Check out Alaska Backcountry Guides for more information.