Ele-vantage in the Afternoon

As a child I found glee in fleeting pleasures of spring and autumn. Those few windswept moments wedged in-between full sun and billowing snow spoke unique volumes to me.

Many adult years later the months between beach bummin’ and pow-turns have evolved to terms like ‘the shoulder,’ or; ‘slack.’ The later especially is somehow weighted, as if to imply, “nothin’ doin,” an affect aptly described as a season switched off.

If that’s the case, then I guess I feel fortunate to have disobeyed signage. To my view, the hills are home to Unexpected, to Thrill and, best of all, home to outfitter organizations able to get you amongst them.

Enter Alpine Air Alaska; a family-centric Girdwood icon of aerial and ice adventuring. Alpine Air rates among the best in frontier heli-services, offering the neighborly professionalism needed when Unexpected comes to call.

In my clan’s case such a call marked an exciting first in two lifetimes.

It was Thursday. Sunlight was ascending the pine flank of Penguin Ridge. The rays slipping between frosted boughs to illuminate the sweet, sleepy stillness of another autumn morning in a place called home.

The silence is typical to the season, yet my home did not slumber like the rest. Inside its four cozy walls two young parents wrapped one frenzied toddler within glacier appropriate attire. Naturally, this was quite a mission, but even a brief glance out the window motivated the missus and I to press on

Waking apace with my excitedly sleepless tribe was a morning to put the capital ‘G’ in Girdwood.

Arriving at Alpine Air’s hanger, we step from the car into crisp, electric air. Across the tarmac, a creek rushes cold and clean. Beyond that, peaks rise proud in dress white on sky blue.   

Directly ahead, like a handsome red linchpin upon fine attire, we see the wing-less steed. It waits rotors whirling while we take a tic to let things seep in.

A Robinson Helicopter model R400 used by Alpine Air capably carries pilot, passengers and/or baggage. Gazing at it along my daughter, I struggle to imagine how her two-year old mind comes to terms with its up-close crooning. (And we were about to suggestively request she climb into it.) Eerily calm amidst the silent roaring, she looks first to her parents. And then, as if contented to see that it was we who were ready, our two-year old follows the kind lead of, Sasha Swift, one of her many new friends at Alpine Air Alaska.

Operating since the early 90’s Alpine Air Alaska craft fly the alpine skies of Prince William Sound and beyond. They emphasize safety and enjoyment while specializing at both state transport and flightseeing.

Twice awarded for industry excellence by global travel organizations, Alpine Air professionals provide dog sledding tours, glacial landings, hikes, fishing, weddings, glacial golf, picnics, film support, flight school and a variety of touring options.    

Today, the Alpine Air family guides at least two passengers well past the edges of their experiential maps.

Beside my front seat sits another friendly face. Pilot, Taylor Hutchins is an integral ambassador upon today’s adventure. He is an information resource, photographer and our ride home.

The ensuing liftoff feels like a snowball beginning to roll. Once underway it is freedom embodied. I glance back. The girls, both wearing comically large headphones atop delicate shoulders, are spellbound. A pair of shaggy Mountain Goats lopes across a nearby pitch. And all around us sky, snow, ice and soil paints a tapestry which we (and the goats) seem to be entering.

Upper Winner Creek Trail briefly runs parallel to the flight path. It is a fine charcoaled groove against a still frosted landscape. Masses of frozen water roost beside and below our passage. A turbid wall of inert water grows within a nearby gorge. Taylor says it’s a frozen waterfall. I’m thankful, thinking I prefer its pose as is. My daughter seems to agree.

Alpine Air procedure wisely supplies children with mike-less headphones, yet I can see her youthful face. She’s narrating, at the top of her lungs.

Inner Lake George appears a distant blue streak beneath a crown of peaks. We’re nearing it when Taylor initiates a banking turn to reveal a panorama even the toddler’s rapid mind won’t soon obscure.    

The cliffs of Colony Glacier sweep into view before passing languidly below. The circling approach feels like an application for admission. The jutting bulk of ice waits with upward blade formations like blue-tipped shark fins, but the affect is unthreatening. Taylor and Colony seems to share understanding and, thusly fortunate in affiliation, we land.

Soft fresh snow coats the surface ice. Through that, I feel the lower ice like a force. For my wife and daughter, whom before today had neither stepped near a helicopter nor landed atop a glacier, the ice is surprisingly homey. The two-year old appears particularly at ease. In fact, over the whole experience’s few hours, her sole complaint is that we must return. And even that brief squall is quickly calmed during flight. She notes the passing glaciers like stars to chart a course home.

Alpine Air Alaska, operating year-round, books six daily tours during summer, and four per-day through winter. Co- owner, operator Deb Essex says the first impressions of flightseeing are among her favorites. And those experiences, says Alpine Air Director of Marketing, Sasha Swift, are all the better enjoyed over autumn.

“Everyday’s different,” Swift said, “and it’s certainly all breathtaking, but this period benefits from much less traffic.”

“It’s nature at its best and, right now, it’s likely to be all yours.”

My exuberant memories echo Swift’s own first impressions. She recalls glaciers, wildlife, and blazing of colors as seen from a startling new perspective: above.

And all of this, the excitement, the adventure and its resulting memory, waits just past the sunrise of a single day in a so-called low season.