Out Of Bounds

Heli-Ski Guiding
Name Angela Hawse
Age 50
Title Internationally certified IFMGA/AMGA mountain guide; heli-ski guide, Telluride Helitrax; senior guide, Exum Mountain Guides
On the job 25 years
Location Ridgway
Typical guiding wages $150 to $450 per day
Angela hawse triggers avalanches—on purpose. It’s a critical part of heli-ski guiding that ensures the terrain you’re about to schuss is stable. So Hawse seatbelts herself into the back of a helicopter, lights the fuses on bundles of explosives called “hand charges,” leans out the door, and tosses them into the backcountry of the San Juan Mountains. “You’ve got anywhere from six to 12 minutes depending on the length of the fuse before it ignites. So you can hold it for five minutes before you start to sweat,” Hawse says. “Typically, when you throw a bomb on a slope, the slide either goes or doesn’t, which gives you a good indication of the stability.”

It’s all so Hawse can take skiers to the highest terrain in the country via chopper for what many would consider a bucket-list experience: the ultimate untouched-powder day. The responsibility Hawse shoulders would paralyze most people: She has to make judgment calls about where to ski, what lines to choose, and whether a slope might fracture and slide. And she has to make sure it all happens before daylight runs out. Add to that unpredictable weather, varying levels of fitness, and occasional language barriers with foreign clients, and heli-ski guiding is as much about mental fortitude as it is about physical toughness. Hawse and her colleagues have it figured out, though: In 31 years of business, Telluride Helitrax has never lost a skier in an avalanche.

There are only eight women in the country with Hawse’s level of mountain guide certification, but the job requires much more than that. “There’s a high level of intuition involved that’s beyond training,” she says. “It just comes from experience in the terrain. It isn’t just about the elements; it’s also about the people, the conditions, the day, and even how I’m doing, physically and mentally. That’s a big part of my daily decision-making that you can’t learn in a book or by training.”