Adventure Dream Jobs: Heli-Ski Guide in Alaska

Jeff Hoke is most definitely living the dream, exploring the best ski terrain in the world daily.
Adventure Dream Jobs: Alaskan Heli-ski Guide Jeff Hoke
Jeff Hoke shreds some Alaskan pow © Courtesy of Jeff Hoke
By Kitt Doucette

Jeff Hoke grew up in Alaska and works as a captain in the Anchorage Fire Department for eight months a year. Every winter, however, he leaves the fire station behind and works as a heli-ski guide for Chugach Powder Guides (CPG) based in Girdwood. From pros filming video parts to people who have never heli-skied before, Hoke and CPG make sure everyone has a great time in the mountains and that they get back safely to do it all again the next day. We’ll let him tell you more about his Adventure Dream Job.

RedBull.com: How did you get the job?

Jeff Hoke: I got a job with Chugach Powder Guides at a time when they owned and operated a river-guiding business in the summer. They needed help and the guy managing the rafting program was also the lead heli-ski guide in the winter. We got to know each other and I expressed my desire to heli-ski guide. He basically blew me off and told me that they don’t hire guides without extensive ski patrol background.

I’ve heli-skied spines in the morning and swapped out for surfboards and wetsuits for afternoon heli-surfing.

The following season I got a phone call from him early one morning — he asked if I had a beacon and knew how to ski. I said yes and he told me to meet him in 30 minutes, as he needed a tail-guide that day. After that I started as an apprentice ski guide. He took a chance on me and I was the first person to guide at CPG without a ski patrol background. I guess he took that chance because of my fire and rescue background and experience with risk management. It also helped that I grew up skiing in the Chugach.

To get a job heli-skiing I think it really comes down to who you know. It’s dangerous work and in the end we choose people we know we can trust in the mountains. A good way to get your foot in the door would be to start out at a heli-ski operation in a support role. Get to know the people in the operation and always be curious and seeking knowledge. Ski guiding requires years of passion for skiing and time spent in the mountains, followed by educational courses like avalanche, crevasse, etc. Having a pro ski patrol background is still a really good route to acquire the skills needed to be a heli-ski guide.

What do you do during a typical day?

A typical day starts around 6:00 a.m. at the computer, checking the weather from the previous evening and the forecasted weather. At 7:00 a.m. we have a guide meeting to discuss the previous day out in the mountains and formulate a weather and avalanche forecast for the day. We discuss where we’re going to ski that day and the logistics that go into making the whole day work. After the meeting we try to fit in a quick breakfast before we meet the guests, fire up the helicopters and head into the mountains. We’re usually back by 7:00 p.m. All the guides meet in the hangar and fill out reports detailing the day’s events — where we skied, what the snow was like, etc. After that I’ll meet up with my guests from the day for dinner and drinks. Hopefully in bed by 11:00 p.m. and then wake up and repeat it all over again.

What’s the best part of your job?

There are so many things about being a heli-ski guide that I love that it would be hard to pinpoint one best part of the job. The first is obvious: the skiing. I am given a helicopter to go wherever I can feasibly take it to go skiing. I’ve explored from the North Chugach to the Gulf of Alaska to the Talkeetna and Tordrillo mountain ranges. All of these ranges hold the best terrain for skiing in the world. I am addicted to searching and finding new terrain, and there is a lifetime of searching out there.

The people who come and ski with me are a huge part of the job. This was my 13th season guiding and I’m mostly skiing with repeat clients — there are bonds built when we share a banner week in the mountains. These people are like-minded and come from all over the world. I find their stories and lives very interesting and try to learn and listen to as much as I can. I really enjoy getting to know people and their ability levels and helping them push themselves outside of their comfort zones in a safe way so that it’s a personal victory for them. And the family of guides I have the opportunity to work with at CPG is overwhelming. The family environment is focused on raising each of us up to be the best at what we do.

The worst?

The worst part of my job is managing people’s expectations. Weather is a major factor in Alaska. Mother Nature is in charge and I can’t do anything about it. I am sympathetic to people who have been planning this epic ski trip for a year and the weather or avalanche conditions don’t work out for them.

Adventure Dream Jobs: Alaskan Heli-ski Guide Jeff Hoke
Heli-ski guide Jeff Hoke © Courtesy of Jeff Hoke

What was your wildest day on the job?

There have been so many wild days. Just this past season we summer heli-skied across a mountain range while another group of guides flew in to the headwaters of a Class 4 whitewater river. They set up camp on the river and we flew in at the end of our day of skiing. We spent a week on the river floating and camping, all with a helicopter in tow to heli-ski and fly fish out of camp. On another trip we had a boat in the Gulf of Alaska with a helicopter for a week to ski, fish and surf. I’ve heli-skied spines in the morning and swapped out for surfboards and wetsuits for afternoon heli-surfing.

What would you be doing if you didn’t have this job?

If I didn’t have the heli-ski job I would still be working as a firefighter. On my days off I would be out snowmachine skiing, surfing off my jet skis in the gulf and chasing good times in Alaska. Basically what I do the rest of the year when the heli season is over.

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