Anchorage, AK – Ski Flying presents a unique set of challenges and nowhere is that more obvious than in Alaska. There is no official rating or endorsement for ski flying, but Acme Cub Training, based in Anchorage, can put an entry in a logbook indicating that the pilot has received training in ski flying. The training is done in a Super Cub and the “runways” are on glaciers, frozen lakes, open fields and occasionally, an actual airport. It really helps to have current proficiency in landing a taildragger, though CFI Steve Williams has had a number of pilots show up, get their tailwheel endorsement and then tackle ski flying in his Supercub. Taildraggers are much easier to maneuver in snow than tricycle aircraft.
In most cases, student ski pilots will spend 4 to 5 hours in ground school and 6 to 8 hours flying with Steve, shooting takeoffs and landings in a variety of snow conditions. ”Some of the landings will be on packed snow, or lake ice, and others will involve setting down in deep powder where the lower end of the struts get buried,” said Steve. “Sometimes, if you step out of the cockpit, you might sink into powder up to your shoulders.”
The most critical part of ski flying hinges on lighting. Overcast skies that prevent shadows on the ground create the worst conditions. Bright sunshine provides the best indication of what the surface looks like. Snow drifts can cause serious problems, kind of like landing a seaplane in high waves. Water only changes density when it freezes, but snow can vary tremendously in density. “There are a tremendous number of variables that affect landings and takeoffs on snow,” said Steve. “We address a lot of those in our training and most students are surprised by how much they learn in a week.” Hopefully, it occurs without getting stuck. “You set an airplane down in snow enough times and you will get stuck.” That is why Steve always carries snowshoes. They can be used to tamp down the snow enough to permit a takeoff roll.
The conditions in Alaska are unique to its latitude, but the thrill of getting airborne in powder snow has already attracted a lot of pilots. Most pilots will spend $3,000 to $3,500 in a week for the training and so far, none have expressed the slightest amount of disappointment.
For more information on ski flying contact Acme Cub Training at 1-907-250-6030 or visit acmecub.blogspot.com. By the way, the best time of the year to visit Alaska for ski flying is March-April.
(Photos by Robert Stapleton, Alaskafoto.)