They just don't make them like Alaska anymore.
Rugged, wild, remote—the Last Frontier is a foreign entity to most Americans, a place where plane travel is easier than driving and where the next town is likely a ferry ride away.
But what the state lacks in traditional accessibility, it makes up for in bucket-list beauty. Towering mountain ranges, expansive glaciers, and free-flowing rivers highlight a territory that is still being discovered and charted on a daily basis. Fishing has long been a staple here, and with its fast waters and prominent peaks, Alaska is also attracting a younger and more outdoors-minded crowd these days.
Southeast Alaska in particular has embraced the adventurous lifestyle, and no town in the area has done it better than the tiny fishing port of Haines. A town of barely 3,000 year-round residents, Haines thrives off of summer cruise-ship tourism, but is secretly a Mecca for winter adrenaline junkies. Sitting at the mouth of the Chilkat River near the base of the mighty Chilkat Range, Haines has unsurpassed access to some of the rowdiest mountain terrain in the world and the heli operations to get you there.
If your adrenal glands are on overdrive, Haines is the medicine you are looking for. Here is a quick and dirty guide to the small Alaskan paradise and your next extreme adventure.
Getting there: Alaskan Airlines flies into Juneau a couple of times a day. From there, skip the $150 flight connector to Haines in favor of the local ferry. It adds a couple of hours to the trip, but you won't be complaining while chugging your way up the Chilkat Inlet. Also, when bad weather grounds flights, the ferry is still on time, but make sure to check the schedule ahead of time.
Also, the heli operators are outside of town. Make sure to let them know where you are staying and they can usually arrange a pickup around town.
Helicopter access: The name Haines is synonymous with world-class heli-skiing and -boarding. Fly with one of two town operators (SEABA or Alaska Heliskiing) and get up into some of the most remote and stunning lines in the Chilkat Range. Prices vary depending on what you’re looking for, as a single run costs somewhere around $175 and a full week of ski-your-face-off access can get up to the $6,000 range. That may seem steep, but when a day pass at your local resort is more than $100, a legendary heli drop to a 4,000-foot descent doesn’t sting as bad.
Alternatives: So maybe heli bumps are out of your price range. There are still options to scoring amazing skiing, though they will require proper backcountry knowledge. The first is Fly with Drake, a ski-plane operation run by (you guessed it) Drake out of the Haines Airport. For $90 Drake will fly you to a zone, drop you off for the day, and fly you back to town. If you want to camp on a glacier, just let him know and arrange a rendezvous date. For the real dirtbag, head to Haines Pass, 40 miles east of town, and access acre upon acre of fun terrain minus the price tag. Yes, this is technically Canada, but it’s rowdy all the same.
Where to stay: Each of the heli operators offers lodging for an additional fee, but the real ticket in Haines is The Attic, a two-bedroom condo in the center of town that rents for around $100. With a full kitchen and ample floor space, the cost-saving possibilities are pretty open-ended.
Cup o' joe: The Hungry Moose is basically a big blue box that sits in the middle of town, but it serves up a mean cup of coffee and delicious breakfast burritos. Fast. Easy. Cheap (as it gets in AK). Sounds about right.
Eats: The Mountain Market is a go-to for fresh and healthy food at about as decent a price as you’ll find in town. An organic market seems like an odd fit in this Alaskan mountain town, but it’s a welcome break from greasy fish and chips and lackluster pizza.
What to bring: With infamous Alaskan weather comes a lot of days when helicopters can’t fly and skiing is just about impossible. Make sure to bring some alternative entertainment. There’s plenty of fishing around town, a brewery, and even a Frisbee-golf course. If all that fails, poker night at the Harbor Bar is a great way to lose some money.
When to go: Alaskan heli-ski season is specific. Springtime offers the most predictable weather, so if you want to maximize your potential flight days, book a trip for late March or early April. That being said, it’s also busy season, so book early.
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