Alaska is America’s last great wilderness. Only a small fraction of its 365 million acres have been developed, leaving large swaths of wilderness ripe for exploration. But getting to places that have no roads, train stops, landing strips, or cruise ports can be tricky.
To truly get off the beaten path in Alaska, you may need to travel by helicopter.
“In Alaska, you’ve got to get off the road system to really see the good stuff,” said Ryan Skorecki, a veteran helicopter pilot with nearly 20 years of experience flying in Alaska.
Small planes and helicopters both offer the opportunity to get beyond the state’s impassable roads, but planes need runways while helicopters can land in tight, more inaccessible places.
Helicopters are increasingly being used to ferry skiers and hikers to and from remote spots in the Alaskan interior. Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, an intimate luxury property on Judd Lake, uses helicopters to fly guests to ski spots in the winter and remote hiking, fishing, and biking terrain in the summer.
“Alaska is a really big state, so there is no shortage of amazing places you can legally land a helicopter,” said Skorecki, who flies for Tordrillo seasonally.
Traveling by helicopter is the only way to access the luxurious Sheldon Chalet, an intimate luxury property perched on a cliff 6,000 feet above Denali National Park’s Ruth Glacier. The 5-acre property is tucked into the Alaska Range at 63 degrees latitude, making it the perfect base for glacier trekking and stargazing.
It’s also the only way to access the hard icy glaciers that serve as the base for dog-sledding adventures from Anchorage, Seward, and Juneau. “You can’t land an airplane with skis on hard ice,” Skorecki said. “An airplane needs to land on soft snow.”
In the summer, the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge flies guests to the remote Triumvirate Glacier to climb the European-style via ferrata, go mountain biking, and take a dip in their choice of pristine glacial pools. Helicopters also transport hikers to the Tordrillo Mountains where the hiking is 80 miles from the nearest road and about 10 minutes by helicopter from the lodge. The hiking route takes travelers over lush forests, pristine lakes, and sheets of seemingly endless blue ice.
It isn’t until you fly above Alaska that you really understand just how unspoiled and magical the state is.
“The advantage of the air is [that] you really get to see the shape of the land much better,” said Bob Kaufman, a one-time East Coast business consultant who moved to Alaska decades ago to get into the tourism business. “Air is the only way you’re going to get face to face with cravasses and mountain peaks, that terrain that Alaska is famous for.”
Helicopters also provide an edge when it comes to seeing Alaskan wildlife. They fly slower and lower, making it possible to get closer to gigantic moose and bears while keeping a very safe distance.
Helicopters, however, aren’t cheap, nor are the travel experiences that require them. Tordrillo has booking packages that include five hours of helicopter use. Summer prices start at $6,000 per person for three nights and in the winter, six-night ski packages start at $15,000 per person.