When It All Lines Up

An essay on one man who always followed his ski dream

This is the intro, from the editor, for the January issue of POWDER. Can’t find the magazine? Subscribe here for just $15.

We floated over the ridgeline and felt a wave of weightlessness as we dropped down the other side. The helicopter pilot swerved hard, putting the machine on its side, and swooped toward a point I couldn’t yet see. He nestled the skids onto the landing zone—a five-by-five perch. I couldn’t hear anything, but from the body language of our guide, I knew to be careful. We climbed out, hunkered down, and put our hands over our faces to avoid the wash. The back half of the helicopter was hanging off a cliff. I looked at Dave with big eyes and he smiled. Our guide unloaded our skis, then the A-Star rose up and dove for the valley floor.

It was quiet then. We were alone on top of a mountain deep in the Chugach, in the company of Alaska Rendezvous Heli Guides. Our modest barracks, muddy parking lot, and cozy, rowdy bar awaited us somewhere thousands of feet below, on Thompson Pass. I set my skis on the snow and delicately clicked in to my bindings. The sky was entirely blue. The mountains endless. We eased our tips toward the drop—a 1,000-foot-long, 10-foot wide, 50-degree-steep channel of untouched powder that awaited these privileged few. It was my first trip to Alaska, and this was what we had been waiting for.

Dave had been here before. He was witness to the original Alaskan heli skiing explorers—Doug and Emily and Theo and Dean. But this was some 20 years later. During our morning briefing, Dave, a father of two young kids, softly told our guides we were fine keeping it mellow out there. And we were. But now this wasn’t exactly that. We watched our guide ease down the mountain in the light-on-your-feet style that all guides seem to possess. Dave looked around at the mountains, marveling at their godliness. Then he gave me a warm smile and dropped in.

Dave has lived in Southern California his entire life. He first wore skis at June Mountain, California, when he was 9. When he was 13, his aunt and uncle got him a subscription to Powder magazine. It changed his life. At 25, he got a job at Powder, in the photo department. It was his dream. This year Dave turned 50. He also completed his 25th year at POWDER, now as our director of photography.

As Dave dropped in to the Alaskan face, he showed no hesitation. He found a rhythm from the start. Always a perfectionist, every turn of his, no matter where he is skiing, is intentional: knees at a 45-degree angle, hands forward, skis bent and on edge, upper body perfectly still. With each carve, snow piled up above his waist. His camera bags, typically worn on both his chest and back, were, finally, somewhere buried in the helicopter. He was just skiing. Like he does so often throughout this magazine, he made it look like the greatest experience on earth.

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