Like a dream, I wake with the Mendenhall Towers looming large over me,a foot of fresh snow on the ground, and blue skies on the horizon. I casually board the A-Starwith a few friends, and we fly off toward the Juneau Ice Cap … The vision was conceived the day Imet Bruce Griggs, owner and operator of Out Of Bounds Heli Adventures, who was visiting friends inValdez. After speaking with him, I decided I’d pay Bruce a visit to experience the mountains surroundingJuneau, Alaska for myself. Bruce described the amazing terrain near the Juneau Ice Cap, and alsomentioned the abundance of helicopters and lack of heli-boarding clients in Juneau. It sounded all themore enticing because I’d just waited two hours to get my first heli run in Valdez. Bruce understoodwhere I was coming from.

He has a long history of heli-guiding in Alaska and played an important role inpioneering a lot of the terrain surrounding Valdez back in the Shangri-la days of 1990. But in the yearsthat followed, he grew tired of the emerging “scene” in Valdez and headed for greener pastures. “I gottired of waiting for helis,” he said. “When you run your own heli operation, you get as much flying time asyou want.” Juneau local Mark Schultz also helped to paint a mental picture. Like Bruce, he’d spoken ofJuneau’s magical mountains and snow. It was after a mind-blowing run in Valdez, two feet of powderflying over our heads with every turn, that Mark’s words finally hit home. “You really need to make itdown to Juneau,” he said calmly. “It’s every bit as good as this.” The 737 banked hard as weapproached Juneau.

To the left I could faintly see the massive granite form of the Mendenhall Towersthrough the clearing clouds of a low-pressure system that’d passed through southeast Alaska. As Idisembarked and met Mark, he mentioned that conditions were looking pretty good. He said a series oflows had been releasing from Northern Siberia for the past two weeks, grounding the choppers, but itwas clearing as we spoke. When you fly into bluebird skies in Alaska after two weeks of dreadfulconditions, you know luck is on your side. We packed up the gear and headed to the TEMSCO HeliPad, home of Out Of Bounds Heli Adventures, to meet Bruce and his partner Sean Dog. I was blownaway by the operation and the size of the fleet; eight A-Stars were lined up, quietly waiting to lift us intothe surrounding peaks. After introductions and some pre-flight logistics, we headed into town for anAlaskan martini (beer). With its old Victorian houses and brightly painted storefronts, entering Juneaufelt like going back to the Gold Rush era. Sitting at the rustic bar of the historic Alaskan Hotel, I wasgreeted by Matt Graves and Dave Linhardt. These lifelong friends and veteran riders have been comingto Juneau for years and would be joining Mark and me in the helicopter. I had trouble sleeping thatnight, knowing we had plans to meet at the heli pad at 8:30 a.m. When you wake up in Alaska to blueskies, it’s like a starter’s gun going off next to your head. I jumped out of bed to confirm my suspicions,then we scrambled to gather gear and drive to the heli pad as quickly as possible. Waiting at the padwere veteran guides Bonnie and Jim Zellers. I couldn’t think of anyone better to guide us than this solidpair.

My adrenaline started rising as the pilot methodically went through his pre-flight checklist. Then hecasually turned on the turbo and powered the chopper off the pad. Slowly rising out of the Juneau citylimits, we began to see the surrounding terrain, catching a glimpse of the imposing Mendenhall Towers.With our speechless faces pressed against the cockpit window, we gazed at the granite structures risingout of the vast sea of ice called the Mendenhall Glacier. Circling around in the chopper, Bonnie pointeddown to a good-looking landing zone. Over the headphones, I heard her say, “Let’s check this out. It’s amoderate first run, and I’d like to look at the stability.” As we landed, the rotor ast kicked up a hugeplume of fine Alaskan powder into the crisp morning air, signaling the quality turns awaiting us. Thechopper lifted off and disappeared into the crevasse-laden valley below, leaving us only with the eeriesilence of the mountains. We helped Bonnie dig a pit, and after a quick analysis, we deemed thesnowpack fairly stable. Bonnie began her descent, followed by Matt and Scott. The snow was a littlewind-blown on the top, but obviously improved below as their plumes of powder grew with each turn.The rest of us headed down to join Bonnie, now just a speck on the ridge below. The snow had awonderful consistency, as the grins on our faces testified. It’s amazing the joy just one heli-boarding runcan bring.

We took another run at this location before moving over to an area called Lemon Creek tosample some glaciated terrain. Searching for a few north-facing powder lines, we decided to make adrop in the upper reaches of Lemon Creek. Approaching the landing zone, we picked out some amazingruns adjacent to the Lemon Creek Glacier. They carried us near a series of ice seracs and crevasses,brilliantly lit by the afternoon light. We made sure to give ourselves plenty of room around thesebeautiful, but deceptively dangerous, works of natural art. The unique glacial setting and quality snowmade this the most memorable run of the day for me, but we were lifted for a few more before the lightfaded. The sun dropped behind the Chilkat Range and the world turned black and white. The settingwas breathtaking as I watched Mark make the last turns of the day, each one enveloping him in a waveof snow.

He repeatedly vanished and reappeared as he made his way to the helicopter. As quickly asthey cleared, the clouds returned to Juneau. Mark wasn’t optimistic about the weather as a series oflows appeared to be building once again, and the long-term forecast called for a week of rain. Half theAlaskan heli-boarding experience is waiting out inclement weather-”down days,” as they’re called-whenconditions are so bad the choppers can’t fly. Unlike Valdez, however, where down days mean countlessmonotonous hours of channel surfing in your hotel room, Juneau offers a wide variety of cultural andnatural diversions. You can take in the sights and sounds of the city, check out some lift-accessed ridingat the Eaglecrest Ski Area, mountain bike in the Tongass Rain Forest, hike near the Mendenhall Glacier,or enjoy the region’s world-class fishing. Mark and I opted for a kayak mission to a nearby sea-lioncolony in the Auke Bay area. While observing the sea lions, we had the pleasure of a close encounterwith an orca (a.k.a. killer whale) and her young calf. The entire colony suddenly erupted into a chorus ofsnorts and grunts as the sea lion’s most-feared enemy passed by, less than 150 feet away. The whalesbreached the surface as we watched them make their way toward the Gastineau Channel and the mightyChilkats. It was a sight I’ll never forget. We’d had seven consecutive down days, and the weathercontinued to thwart any chances of flying. We were running out of non-riding activities and had hit justabout every bar in Juneau. There’d been talk of a break in the system, and we hoped for the best as therain continued to fall. Jackson Hole rider John Griber had joined us in Juneau, as did Bucky Baxter, amutual friend who happens to be Bob Dylan’s slide guitarist. We were all killing time at the AlaskanHotel, when Bruce mentioned that a local Tlingit shaman-the Raven-would be performing a ceremony tobless the heli crews and ask the Tlingit gods for favorable weather. According to local legend, theRaven’s spiritual powers are real, and at that point we were getting desperate for a break in the weather.

We joined the Raven at Echo Cove, where he’d set up the implements of his craft: the feather of aneagle, an abalone shell, and cedar cuttings he burns as offerings to the higher powers. After a briefintroduction he proceeded with the ceremony, burning the cedar in his abalone shell and waving thesmoke toward our faces with the feather. The Raven’s presence was strong, and I felt a sense ofwellness while near him. As the smoke cleansed our minds and bodies of evil spirits, he repeated Tlingitchants while we prayed for good fortune and clear weather. Azure skies greeted us in the morning, and Isilently thanked the Raven for his help. We anxiously headed to the heli pad to get some riding in afterthe down days. Pro-rider Victoria Jealouse joined us, as did Erin Daley, a waitress from WestYellowstone, Montana who’d saved up all year for a week of heli-boarding in Juneau. Once in the air,we headed toward the ice cap, where cooler temperatures resulted in drier snow. Jim Zellers chose tocheck stability on Mt. McGinnis, a peak adjacent to the Mendenhall Towers. Our first run of the daywas on Scarface, a gently sloping bowl named for the avalanches common on its face. Erin took thehonors of first turns. A victim of unfortunate timing, these would be the first-and last-runs of her trip;she’d arrived in Juneau just in time to sit through a week of down days and would be flying out later thatevening.

Erin had yet to make a turn, and the least we could do was give her first tracks. Graciouslythanking us for the opportunity, she smiled and pushed off. Tentative at first, Erin quickly got into thegroove and opened it up as she let out a hoot of joy. One by one we followed the undulating terraindown to the Mendenhall Glacier, which resembled the surface of the moon. After repeating the run, wemoved over to Winchester, another classic Juneau descent. Set against a stunning backdrop, Victoriafluidly carved down Winchester’s wide-open bowls to the pick-up zone. John, Erin, and I followed,laughing all the way to the heli. The pilot informed the group he needed to refuel, and dropped us off foranother run. Erin decided she should head out on the refueling run so she wouldn’t miss her flight home,and waved goodbye out of the cockpit window. Little did we realize these would be our last runs, too.

When he returned, the pilot said groups were being pulled off the ice cap due to incoming weather. Itwas a short but sweet day in Juneau. Back at the heli pad, I saw a note from Erin posted on the bulletinboard: “Bruce-what a day on the ice cap! Thanks for fitting me into the schedule. I only made four runsin seven days, but they were the best runs of my life. So worth it! I’m off now-Lower 48 bound. Maybewe’ll see you next year.” Erin had summed it up pretty well. My week in Juneau had been as unique asJuneau itself, and although we experienced more down days than heli days, it was definitely worth it.After years of anticipation, I had finally fulfilled my dream of snowboarding Juneau. Visionaccomplished.g the cedar in his abalone shell and waving thesmoke toward our faces with the feather. The Raven’s presence was strong, and I felt a sense ofwellness while near him. As the smoke cleansed our minds and bodies of evil spirits, he repeated Tlingitchants while we prayed for good fortune and clear weather. Azure skies greeted us in the morning, and Isilently thanked the Raven for his help. We anxiously headed to the heli pad to get some riding in afterthe down days. Pro-rider Victoria Jealouse joined us, as did Erin Daley, a waitress from WestYellowstone, Montana who’d saved up all year for a week of heli-boarding in Juneau. Once in the air,we headed toward the ice cap, where cooler temperatures resulted in drier snow. Jim Zellers chose tocheck stability on Mt. McGinnis, a peak adjacent to the Mendenhall Towers. Our first run of the daywas on Scarface, a gently sloping bowl named for the avalanches common on its face. Erin took thehonors of first turns. A victim of unfortunate timing, these would be the first-and last-runs of her trip;she’d arrived in Juneau just in time to sit through a week of down days and would be flying out later thatevening.

Erin had yet to make a turn, and the least we could do was give her first tracks. Graciouslythanking us for the opportunity, she smiled and pushed off. Tentative at first, Erin quickly got into thegroove and opened it up as she let out a hoot of joy. One by one we followed the undulating terraindown to the Mendenhall Glacier, which resembled the surface of the moon. After repeating the run, wemoved over to Winchester, another classic Juneau descent. Set against a stunning backdrop, Victoriafluidly carved down Winchester’s wide-open bowls to the pick-up zone. John, Erin, and I followed,laughing all the way to the heli. The pilot informed the group he needed to refuel, and dropped us off foranother run. Erin decided she should head out on the refueling run so she wouldn’t miss her flight home,and waved goodbye out of the cockpit window. Little did we realize these would be our last runs, too.

When he returned, the pilot said groups were being pulled off the ice cap due to incoming weather. Itwas a short but sweet day in Juneau. Back at the heli pad, I saw a note from Erin posted on the bulletinboard: “Bruce-what a day on the ice cap! Thanks for fitting me into the schedule. I only made four runsin seven days, but they were the best runs of my life. So worth it! I’m off now-Lower 48 bound. Maybewe’ll see you next year.” Erin had summed it up pretty well. My week in Juneau had been as unique asJuneau itself, and although we experienced more down days than heli days, it was definitely worth it.After years of anticipation, I had finally fulfilled my dream of snowboarding Juneau. Visionaccomplished.