Tordrillo Mountain Lodge Featured Alaska Heli Skiing Guide Lel Tone
- Explosive charges thrown in Ski Patrolling career: 6,500 or 13,000 lbs. of explosives.
- Days guiding heli skiing: 15 years, 50-80 days per season, and a total of 700 to 1,120 days. This translates to an unaccountable amount of powder turns!
- Days in the year Lel has worked in ski boots: Average 150 days a season, 2,550 days in professional career.
Three random facts you didn’t know about Lel Tone:
- I once got three speeding tickets in one day in theee different states. I have a bit of a lead foot and am a big fan of the throttle.
- I can’t live without hugs. Good hugs and a good handshake are really important things to do well.
- It might be crazy but I don’t care for foie gras. Just don’t like it.
Why you do what you do:
To make a living in the mountains is to be at the mercy of Mother Nature. We are reminded every day of how fragile and precious our lives really are. You try to make safe decisions, try to calculate and manage your risk, stack your odds, but ultimately it is always on the mountains terms. But, I find, it is in the risk and the uncertainty that we find our greatest joys in life.
The greatest thing I learned in my 8th grade Latin class was ‘Carpe Diem,’ to ‘seize the day.’ It is a small concise phrase that has had a tremendous effect on my life. It reminds me every day to appreciate every moment we have on this amazing planet, to make every precious second count. I see this most clearly when I am spending time in the mountains. It is what has motivated me to find a way to live, work and play in them. I feel so fortunate to have a job that allows me to share that joy, that appreciation, that time in the mountains with other people.
Work hard, play hard, be a good listener, don’t ask stupid questions, be the first one to step forward to do even the least sought after tasks, help your co-workers out whenever you can. Have an “I got your back” type of mentality. Strive to be bigger, better, faster stronger. Have a thick skin and never take yourself too seriously (I’m still working on that one). Have a good work ethic. Be good at what you do. Strive to a high level of technical proficiency! But doesn’t this hold true for everyone, male or female?
You have a profound respect and appreciation for the mountains, how did this originate?
As a child growing up in Switzerland, the mountains, always present, majestic and near, always around me, made me feel “at home.”
As I’ve grow and changed over the course of my life, they have taken on different meanings for me. They are a place devoid of judgment, they are a place of solitude and beauty, they are a place to push yourself and your limits. They allow me to just be in the moment, to see my life for the gift and miracle that it is. More recently the mountains have been a place that I can learn from and help teach others about. They will never stop being an inspiration to me.
What do you like so much about the Tordrillo Mountains?
I love the Tordrillos for their remoteness. To be so far off the road system in Alaska is a great thing. I also love the diversity of our terrain here, each zone from Spring Creek, to Couloir Town, to The Pinot down to the Capps have such a distinct and different feel.
What’s the most important thing to remember when in the mountains?
Humility. Mother Nature calls all the shots. Period. The mountains don’t care about your goals, your agenda, and your ego. We must be prepared, be smart, try to make sound decisions and be ready when the timing is right and the mountains allow us to do what we desire.
What’s the biggest rush you get from guiding?
Flying in the helicopter with our pilot, Glen. For all of you out there that have flown with Glen, you know what I mean. That man loves to fly and loves his work, and it shows in his flying.
If you weren’t a heli ski guide, what other career can you envision yourself having?
I never wanted to be a doctor or a veterinarian or anything like that, but in high school I fell in love with Modern Dance. I had this amazing dance teacher June Jeswald; a beautiful woman in her late 60’s who danced with Martha Gramm. At that time in my life, that form of expression captivated me. I contemplated the idea of perusing a life as a professional dancer (not the kind you’re thinking…). But I doubt Alvin Alley would have me. Plus, I knew a life of dance would potentially take me to the city and away from the mountains I loved so much.
You’re a major role model for aspiring skiers and women in the ski industry. Who was your role model or mentor growing up?
I have been incredibly lucky to have some amazing mentors in my professional career, as you can imagine in this field, all of them have been men. Coming through the ranks on the Ski Patrol at Squaw, one of my main mentors was our Patrol Director, Bob Cushman. He took the time to encourage me as a young patroller. He also demonstrated to me what a good leader should be. The most important thing I learned from Bob is the importance to utilize the diverse strengths that every person in a group brings to the table, to encourage and foster those strengths in each individual.
As a leader, it is this that makes for a great team, not a crew of like-minded individuals with similar skills. Avalanche Forecaster, Russ Johnson was a huge influence in my life in helping groom me as an Avalanche Forecaster for Squaw Valley and avalanche educator. As a young guide at Chugach Powder Guides (CPG), Frank Coffey our operations manager at the time, despite long days in the field, always took the time to offer critique, answer questions, give me snow science articles to read and invest time in sharing his wealth of knowledge about guiding and snowpack. Previous owner of CPG and avalanche guru, Dave Hamre has and still remains an amazing sounding board for all my questions about snowpack or career choices or how to get over the loss of a friend and coworker in the mountains. Dave always has sound advice to give me and for this I am eternally grateful.
Lastly, I have had the pleasure to work with Tordrillo Mountain Lodge co-owner and guide, Mike Overcast for almost 15 years now. I have learned a great deal over the years watching Mike work in the mountains. I have a huge amount of respect for Mike as he exemplifies a great leader in that he would never ask anything of you that he would not do himself (including diving to the bottom of a freezing cold hot tub in below freezing temps to drain it). The man works harder than anyone out here at the lodge.
What item, non-safety or skiing-related do you always carry when out skiing?
Chocolate and Chapstick!