Trials and Tribulations of (Not) Heli-Skiing

by Dana Davis Tuesday, April 3rd 2012


A couple weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be invited on a 2 day heli-ski trip in the North Cascades of Eastern Washington.  Me?!  Heli-ski?!  You bet!  Now, I have no idea why they thought someone who spent the last 14 years in Tucson would be a good candidate for heli-skiing (I can rip it up lift skiing but have limited backcountry experience) but this was an opportunity of a lifetime and was not going to be turned down!

I flew into Spokane, WA to meet up with two other folks in my group- Paul Fish, from Mountain Gear, and our host, Aaron from The North Face.   (Michael, also from The North Face was going to join us a day later.)  From the airport we drove several hours to Winthrop, WA for late dinner and then we were off to bed to be ready for an early start the next morning. 

After breakfast we enjoyed a short walk to the ski center and were introduced to our guides and instructors for the day.  We spent the next hour picking out gear (big fat powder skis), made binding adjustments and became familiar with our packs and backcountry ski tools (avalance beacon, probe, shovel, radio, etc.).  We then spent half hour learning about backcountry safety, emergency procedures and helicopter safety rules. We then headed outside to put our skills to use; it was actually quite fun utilizing these tools as I haven’t had an opportunity before!


Finally it was time to send the first group off in the helicopter. (We were separated into 3 groups of 5 people- 1 guide with 4 clients.)  Paul, Aaron and I were in the second group.  It was pretty exciting to watch the first group take off knowing we were just 20 minutes away from the opportunity to go ourselves.  Unfortunately snow and cloud cover was not cooperating and the chopper was unable to land and had to bring the group of skiers and borders back.  So, it was time to wait.  And wait.  As with any weather dependent sport, often times it is all about “hurry up and wait”.  Then the weather got clear, we scrambled to get ready and the first group was off!  And then they came back…again.  This time it was the wind that was the challenge.  So we waited some more and called it a day.

While it was disappointing to not go skiing, we had another day and decided to make the most of what was left of the afternoon.  Paul went for a winter run and Aaron and I decide to go cross-country skiing.  I had never been before so it was quite fun enjoying the beautiful scenery while trying not to lose my balance on skinny little skis.  After our activities we had a great dinner, met up with Michael, and settled in for the night.

The next day the weather was clear and beautiful!  So off we went ready for a day in the powder.  This time we were in the third group.  After waiting around for a while (see a trend here?) it was our turn to head up!  The helicopter ride was exciting and fun.  The mountains were amazing and it was cool to see the skiers of the first group carving turns below.  But wait, why are they skiing in an area that was showing signs of a fresh avalanche slide?   Uh oh.  After circling a few times we touched down and waited to see if everyone was all right or if anyone needed help.  It turns out that even with extra precautions taken the third person in the group triggered a slide and got caught up in it.  She was fine but a bit shaken from the experience.  The pilot then took us back to the shop and due to obvious safety concerns that was the end of our heli-skiing adventures.

Not to be completely deterred from skiing, Paul graciously asked if I wanted to skin up Mount Spokane at 5:00 AM the next morning to get in some turns before my flight. So, off we went to pick up some randonnee skis from Paul’s shop and next thing you know, it is 4:30 AM and time to get rolling!  Having always done downhill skiing I have not experience much skinning uphill; it was actually way more fun than it sounds!  It was great to be outside and enjoying the fresh mountain air and to be on snow.  About an hour or so after skiing up we had a few fabulous minutes to really rip it up coming down; those Mountain Gear guys can really ski!  It was over all too soon but well worth the effort and it was time to head back to the warmer weather of the Southwest.  Maybe someday I will get a chance to use those big fat powder skis…   


Variant Jacket

by Dana Davis Tuesday, December 13th 2011

The Variant Jacket has been one of our most popular jackets of the season. With synthetic insulation sewn into the front panels and Power Stretch fleece on the back, sides and arms, it falls into the Synthetic Insulation category that Charles discussed a couple weeks ago. It’s available for both men and women.

We asked Summit Hut owner, Dana Davis, and our Speedway Store Manager, Traci, to give us their impressions of the jacket thus far.


Variant Jacket
My family and I went horseback riding for a couple hours Thanksgiving Day weekend and it was the perfect piece to wear!

At a first glance this jacket might look a little funky (it is a hybrid of Power Stretch fleece and a lightly insulated vest) but I like the look and I like the performance and versatility even better.

The Variant is a great weight and warmth for many parts of the country but seems to be ideal for the slightly chilly winter days (and evenings) in Tucson. The black Power Stretch sleeves truly conform to a body in motion in addition to accommodating many different body types. I have broad shoulders, long arms, and a narrower waist; it is hard for me to get a slimmer fit without feeling confined and uncomfortable- the Variant is perfect. There is also enough stretch in the sleeves to wear it comfortably over another long sleeve item. The vest portion is great for adding extra warmth over your core but without adding bulk. I think this will be a great layering piece for under a shell for skiing and other snowy activities and yet also a great standalone jacket to take to the movie theater.

I recently took this jacket with me when I traveled to the Osprey Packs facilities in Vietnam. It turned out to be a great travel jacket (lightweight, compact and versatile) even though I never actually wore it when I was outdoors. It was warm and rainy in Vietnam and I never wore more than short sleeves with my Effusion jacket. When did I actually wear it? For more than 20 hours straight when traveling (each way) on the sufficiently cooled airplanes and airports! It was comfy, stretchy, a good weight and I was “out like a light” on all flights!

Variant Jacket

I was disappointed to have not used it hiking and biking in Vietnam so I have been anxious to put it to the test back here in Arizona. Unfortunately up until recently the weather has been fairly warm the last couple months and while the nights have been chilly, I have not used it for more than a brisk walk during the day. I did take it out a short night run and while it was perfect for the first 10 minutes it felt too warm shortly after. For me this will be my “go to” jacket on warmer fall and winter days and a good layering piece for cold weather sports. I love that in addition to being a outerwear jacket that I can also wear it indoors in lieu of a sweater as well.


I have accumulated a few jackets over the years, which seems to be a common occurrence in Tucson. Is it hot, hotter, rainy or cold? And then when you add hiking, running, biking, running errands around town, or overall outdoor activities to the mix the decisions become a little tougher on a jacket. I want something can cover the spectrum of all my needs.

Variant Jacket

I took the Variant Jacket up Mount Wrightson. I wanted something insulated but that was light and packable. I started at the trailhead at 6 am and had a brisk breeze coming off the mountain. The insulation in the front of the piece is outstanding. It gives you the option of having some insulation without adding a ton of bulk to the jacket. As we continued to hike steadily uphill, the stretch in the Polartec sleeves was great because the Variant jacket moves with you during your activity. The thumb holes are a nice addition for the piece. Especially since I opted to not bring gloves, they gave a bit more protection on my hands. After some hiking I did shed the layer, and packed it down into my pack.  When we hit the saddle, we stopped for a snack and I pulled my jacket out so I didn’t get a chill while resting. I could feel a slight breeze coming through the Polartec, but the extra insulation in the front made the difference. I truly appreciated how the jacket was able to be packed down and I didn’t have to worry about it.

I find myself grabbing this piece because of the technical and fashion aspect of the jacket.


The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!