When is the best time to go?
While not a very satisfying answer, there really is no best time to go within our season (March-early May). Different parts of the season offer different advantages. Here are some generalizations:
March: Tends to be colder, but offers the best skiing top to bottom. In March we are often skiing powder on all aspects, all the way down to the lake elevation. The days are still a little shorter, which brings beautiful light and an all-day sunset effect that is magical.
Early April: This is when we start to feel the spring transition in the air and in the snowpack. Often times we get a nice high pressure spell during this time. The skiing is still great on most aspects and the temperatures are starting to warm up a bit. This is a beautiful time that splits the difference between the March winter vibe and the late April spring vibe.
Mid-Late April: At this point in the season the days are longer and the sun is more intense. Snow quality is still amazing up high, especially on the northerly aspects (cold "leopard print" = legendary Chugach snow). We see the classic spring melt-freeze cycles on the solar aspects and at lower elevations. With lower avalanche hazard we are able to to explore bigger terrain features.
Why does this trip cost as much as it does?
A week at Tebay costs more than a week at a typical Canadian backcountry lodge, but less than a week of heli skiing in Alaska. The three main factors that go into the cost are:
Remoteness: In Alaska, basic necessities like food and fuel are more expensive. At Tebay everything has to be flown in. There are no summer roads. Getting supplies to the lodge not only requires plane flights, but 10 hours of roundtrip driving from Anchorage for every resupply. Running a lodge this far off the grid is a significant logistical undertaking.
Staff to Guest Ratio: We have a [max] group size of 9 skiers per week at Tebay. By comparison, some of the popular heli-ski operations in Alaska run 40+ guests at a time. It takes an almost equal number of staff to make this dream experience a reality: 3 guides + 3-4 pilots + lodge staff. Our 3:1 guide ratio is much lower than most ski touring lodge operations.
Planes: The Ultima Thule planes are a world class fleet of meticulously maintained, ski-equipped commercial aircraft including 4+ Piper PA-18 Super Cubs, a Cessna 185, and a DeHavilland Turbine Otter. In addition to maintenance, aviation fuel is a significant cost (especially in the wake of Covid and the Ukraine war). And all of the fuel for the planes has to first be flown to the lodge.
So it's like heli-skiing but with ski planes?
Quite different actually. A closer comparison would be heli-assisted ski touring. Another difference is we are in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park where heli-skiing is not allowed (the same goes for all national parks).
I don't have any mountaineering experience, but I see harness, ice axe, etc on the gear list. Am I qualified for this trip?
Definitely! No previous mountaineering or climbing experience is required to ski at Tebay. We bring this technical gear as part of our day to day safety equipment for skiing in glaciated terrain. Your guides will explain this stuff along the way. Feel free to contact us if you need gear recommendations.
Can I come to Tebay without having to ski/ride steeper lines?
For sure. With 3 guides for each group of 9, we can accommodate a range of ambitions. We ask that everyone is an advanced skier comfortable in variety of off-piste snow conditions (see Qualifications). Skiing steeper lines when conditions allow is not a requirement and always optional at Tebay.
Can we ski/ride steep lines at Tebay? Couloirs?
Absolutely – when snowpack stability and weather conditions allow for safely traveling in this of terrain.
Do we ski/ride together as one big group or split into smaller groups?
We do both depending on the day. With good weather and snowpack stability we will often split into two or three smaller groups with guides offering different objectives in the same vicinity. One group might head for an easy summit, while another heads for a beautiful north facing glacier, while a third group heads for an aesthetic couloir.
How much vertical is an average day at Tebay?
Due to the nature of the terrain and diversity of the tours we set out on each day, we are not big on counting vert at Tebay. Unlike classic "up and down" terrain in the Lower 48, quite often this is not a very reliable indicator of how big a day will be. We don't fixate on these numbers - instead we focus on exploring amazing places and seeking out incredible skiing/riding experiences. In terms of effort, plan that the average day will be equivalent to 4000'+ of ascent in the places you are used to touring. On plane days, we more often than not get 2000-3000' of bonus descent.
Is there WiFi at the lodge?
No. Tebay is legitimately off the grid. If you need to keep in touch with the outside world while at the lodge, we recommend bringing an InReach or sat phone. Guides have these devices for emergency use in the field. If your family or friends back home need to get in touch with you urgently (family emergency, etc), our office can get a message to the lodge quickly.
I am an expert skier/rider, but am new to touring. Is this trip a good fit for me?
No – Tebay is not a great place to be figuring out the art of moving uphill on skis. Best to get at least one solid season of backcountry touring under your belt first. Building the muscle memory, movement skills, and efficiency takes many days of practice and repetition. You can definitely accelerate the process by finding a mentor or hiring a guide for some days of focused instruction. See Qualifications.
What skis do you recommend?
We recommend a ski with a waist width in the range of 100-115mm underfoot, with "tech" or "pin" bindings (aka Dynafit style). Our official ski recommendation for Tebay is the Atomic Backland 107 or Atomic Backland 107 W. See our Gear Recommendations page.
Do I need an airbag pack?
While choosing to use an airbag vs. regular backpack is a personal choice, we strongly encourage our guests to bring an airbag pack for the increased margin of safety it provides when ski touring in avalanche terrain.
Are splitboarders welcome at Tebay?
Of course – we've had many splitboarders at Tebay over the years. You will have an awesome experience as long as you come into the trip with the right preparation and expectations:
You want to be dialed with your gear and well practiced with your transitions.
Fitness is important, as the reality is you will work a little harder at times on a splitboard due to the softer boots and flex pattern of the board in split mode (although if you happen to have a hard-boot setup, your efficiency will be pretty close to that of a skier).
Patience, and a can-do attitude is essential. Our guides have spent hundreds of days with splitboarders and will strive to set you up for success whenever possible. Due to the nature of the terrain here, there might be times when you need to bust out an extra transition, ride with your poles out, etc.
If I don't feel like skiing all day can I catch the early bus back to the lodge?
While this is a common practice at other backcountry lodges, at Tebay it really depends on the day. For the most part, we ask that everyone commit to being out for the full day once they leave the lodge in the morning, especially on days we are flying. When we are touring from the lodge (not flying), heading in a little early is often workable.
Can we ski first descents?
Humility and respect for the mountains, the wilderness, and the history of this place is important to us at Tebay. Loudly claiming first descents is not our vibe. During a given week it is not uncommon we find ourselves exploring new lines, new peaks, or whole new zones that very likely have never seen ski tracks, or human footprints for that matter. These sorts of days happen organically and are very much dependent on the weather, snow conditions, and the vibe of group.
Don't see your question answered here?
Send us an email and we'll be happy to help.