Skiing on a Glacier at Last Frontier Heliskiing

June 03, 2016 Liam Harrap

When I first saw a Last Frontier Heliskiing tenure map, I was flabbergasted. Not only was the ski-able area enormous, but most of the map was covered in white. Now if anyone (and I mean anyone) is worth their salt, they’ll know what white on a map means – snow and icefields. Our tenure is covered in them. Very-large-and-disappearing-into-the-far-horizon-icefields. Icefields that leave you aghast, breathless, tingling, and makes you realize just how small you really are.

| Grant Gunderson
A standard glacier view at Last Frontier Heliskiing. An icefield is made up of glaciers inter-connecting and branching. Glaciers are just “mini” icefields  | Photo – Grant Gunderson

The icefields in the north are substantial and huge. Hundreds of our ski run, all varying in difficulty and length are located on these gigantic ice formations. People come from around the world to see, ski our terrain and experience what it’s like to be on an icefield.

| Gordon Eshom
In our world, skiers and glaciers share the terrain. | Photo – Gordon Eshom
While Many People Tend To Think Of Glaciers As Barren Waste Lands, That Is Not The Case. Why Just The Other Day I Found A Wasp On One, He Was Probably Terribly Terribly Lost. But He Was Still There Nonetheless! | Liam Harrap
While many people tend to think icefields are barren waste lands, that’s not always true. Why just the other day I found a fly on the Freshfields Icefield, and although he was probably terribly terribly lost, he was still there nonetheless! | Photo – Liam Harrap

While we sometimes ski these runs in the early winter, more commonly they’re skied in March and April, when we have a solid/high snow base and all the crevasses are covered.

Climbing out of a crevasse in the summer | Photo –

Crevasses are deep cracks found in an icefield/glacier that form from stress generated when different sections of ice have different rates of movement. For skiers and mountaineers, they’re a considerable risk that can be managed with good route finding, good judgement, appropriate gear and training. To keep our guests safe, our guides wait until the ski runs on icefields are well covered with stable snow, and that crevasses are bridged. Since we regularly have a snow base of 400 cm or more at 1,000m and above, by spring its usually not a problem. Although we’ve never had a guest fall into a crevasse, we’re still prepared. The guides have crevasse rescue kits, stocked with ropes, harnesses, and anchors if the worst should happen.

It Can Be A Scary Thing, One Second You're On Solid Ground, The Next The World Beneath You're Feet Vanishes And You Plunge Into Darkness |
It can be a scary thing, one second you’re on solid ground, the next the world beneath you’re feet vanishes and you plunge into darkness | Photo –
There Is A Reason Why Our Guide May Ask You To Stay Close To His Tracks. So You Don't Plunge To The Ice Depths | Grant Gunderson
There’s a reason why our guides may ask you to ski very close to his tracks. So you don’t fall into the ice depths | Photo – Grant Gunderson

Not only are crevasses a concern for heliskiers, but for many backcountry skiers. I spend much of my free time messing around on snow and ice. If traveling through glaciers, on foot or on skis appeal you, here are some glacier basics you can follow:

Ski roped up. If you’re ever concerned with falling into a crevasse or if you’re trying to navigate in poor visibility, it’s far safer and easier to rescue someone when they fall into a hole and are attached to a rope. You can read more here.

The Road Ahead Looks Questionable. Good Thing We're Roped Up! | Liam Harrap
The road ahead looks questionable. Good thing we’re roped up! | Photo – Liam Harrap

The best way to avoid dangers is with good route finding. Avoid dips and depressions on a glacier, as they may be a crevasse. Bends over steeper slopes and benches may also be heavily crevassed, as these are areas where the ice will be under more stress and is likely to be heavily broken.

Wooh! Stay Away From Those Holes! | Liam Harrap
Wooh! Stay away from those holes! | Photo – Liam Harrap
A Tumbling Icefall. A Skiers Navigational Nightmare | Liam Harrap
A tumbling icefall. A skiers navigational nightmare | Photo – Liam Harrap

If the unlikely happens and you fall in a crevasse, have the knowledge and skills to rescue yourself and your partners. Take a Crevasse Rescue course and practice your rescue skills regularly, they may save your life or your friends one day.

| Liam Harrap
Although glaciers are dangerous, they’ll take you to amazing sights | Photo – Liam Harrap

Skiing on a glacier is a truly magical and awe-inspiring experience, one that you’ll never forget. I know I never will.