Glacier Discovery by Helicopter

Glacier Discovery by Helicopter
Book YouTube Video

Port: Skagway, Alaska


  • weight
  • jacket
  • Duration:
    2.00 hours
  • Adults:
  • Children:

Stand on a living glacier, and enjoy a helicopter tour featuring dozens more.  This Skagway Tour includes a 40-minute helicopter tour where you will get up close and personal with ancient glaciers, towering waterfalls, and the bottomless depths of the deepest fjord in the world.  You will spend another 40 minutes touring a living glacier on foot with an experienced guide who will show you features such as crevasses, moulins, and crystal-blue glacial pools.  

Before your flight, you will be equipped with glacier boots and a safety vest, and then shown a short video designed to familiarize you with all necessary safety precautions.  This tour is recommended for all ages.  Persons over 250 pounds will be charged an additional $100 (+tax).  Infants up to 23 months are free.  Sunglasses, a camera, and a jacket are recommended.  

Tour Description: Your tour starts by being picked up by a uniformed Temsco driver, next to the cruise ship dock or downtown (your ticket outlines your pickup location). When you arrive at Temsco, you will be outfitted with glacier boots and shown a brief safety video. You and your group will then be led to the helicopter landing pad and loaded into the chopper. Once you are safely buckled into your seat, you will put on a pair of high-tech headphones so you can easily communicate with your experienced pilot. You will spend 40 minutes in the air and 40 minutes on the glacier. Your flight will be customized to the day's weather and pilot preference. When you land on the glacier, you will be met by a glacier expert who will safely show you around the ancient ice, pointing out features such as crevasses, moulins, and seracs. Glaciers are literally alive and always in motion, so your experience will be unique. There will be ample time to take photos and have a few laughs with family and friends. Be sure to keep an eye out for ice worms!

Glacier Fun Facts: If you’re taking a Skagway helicopter excursion, you probably want to know a few things before you go. What exactly is a glacier? In short, it’s a massive chunk of ice formed by the accumulation of snow. As snow accumulates at higher elevations, it compresses into dense ice and begins to flow downhill. This means that glaciers only form when more snow falls than melts. In fact, it takes 100 feet of snow to create one foot of glacial ice. Wow.

During the last ice age which ended about 12,000 years ago, far more snow fell than melted every year. Glaciers became larger and larger. The glacier that covered Skagway was over a mile thick! That is a whole lot of ice. 

Today, the planet is warming at a very high rate, especially during the last 75 years. Because of this, snow is melting faster than it can accumulate, which means glaciers are receding. The heavy, dense ice still flows downhill but the overall amount of ice declines every year. Still, the glaciers are so large that it will still take a long time for many of them to melt entirely. 

There are 100,000 glaciers in Alaska. Only 10 of them are advancing. One is the Hubbard Glacier, about 90 miles west of Skagway. The Hubbard Glacier is also a tidewater glacier, which means it can be seen calving as it advances. Calving is when a tidewater glacier breaks apart and large chunks of ice fall into the water. People on Skagway excursions enjoy watching glaciers calve because it makes a loud noise and is very exciting. 

Even though the glacier that covered Skagway has been gone for nearly 12,000 years, the effects of this massive piece of ice are still being felt. The ice covering Skagway was so heavy that it compressed the ground and bedrock underneath. Because of this, Skagway is rising between one and two inches every year. This process is called isostatic rebound. 

When you consider the fact that the Klondike Gold Rush was around 124 years ago, this means that Skagway has risen about 17 feet since that time! Indeed, photos from the Gold Rush show that the high water line was near what is not the middle of town. Science sure is something!

What glacier does the Skagway helicopter excursion visit? Whenever you visit a place or geographical feature, it’s interesting to know what it’s called so you can tell people, “I took a Skagway helicopter excursion to the (name here) glacier.”

Most Skagway helicopter excursions land on the Meade Glacier, which is located only a few miles east of town. Why is it called the Meade Glacier? Nobody knows. Perhaps the person that named it after his beloved Meade Notebook from grade school. Maybe it was named after some guy named Billy Meade. Feel free to use your imagination. 

What is known is that the Meade Glacier is very pretty and one of the largest glaciers on the Juneau Ice Field. 

What is the Juneau Ice Field? It’s a field of ice, silly! But seriously, the Juneau Ice Field is a 1,500 square mile field of glacial ice from which many of the most famous glaciers extend. The Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau is also a part of the Juneau Ice Field. This means that it extends all the way from Downtown Juneau to Skagway. That’s enough ice to keep a cooler full of beer cold for 100 billion years!

What makes the ice flow downhill? Even though the glacial ice is very dense and heavy, it is still water. What does water do? It flows downhill! This means that glaciers are always moving because the solid water is flowing downhill. 

Why does the ice flow downhill? Gravity. Gravity is a natural force that makes things attract other things. The planet earth is big but the glacier is small by comparison, so the glacier flows toward the mass of the earth. This means that glacial ice is constantly being replenished. So, while a glacier can be 30,000 years old, ice still only takes around 250 years to flow from top to bottom. 

Not all glaciers are from the same time period. While larger glaciers like the Meade Glacier and Hubbard Glacier are quite old, some glaciers were formed relatively recently, during an era called the Little Ice Age.

The Little Ice Age was not truly an “ice age” but it extended from around 1300 to 1850. However, experts agree that it was cold enough to make glaciers advance and for some to form. When you’re traveling through Southeast Alaska and see small glaciers at high elevations that look relatively small, it was likely formed during the Little Ice Age.

In Skagway, if you look southwest across the fjord, you will see a glacier on top of Mount Harding. This glacier is creatively named Harding Glacier. Both the mountain and the glacier are named after President Warren Harding, who knew nothing about glaciers but happened to visit Skagway. Since he is the only president to visit Skagway, he got some stuff named after him. 

Anyway, the little glacier at the top of the mountain was formed during the Little Ice Age. Harding Glacier is quickly receding and will eventually dry up entirely if the climate keeps warming. 

What kind of helicopter will I ride in? There are a lot of different kinds of helicopters. When you take a Skagway helicopter excursion, it’s normal to wonder what kind of helicopter you’re flying in. 

The helicopters used by Temsco for their Skagway helicopter tours are A-Star Helicopters, which are also known as Airbus AS350s in other parts of the world. But you’re in Alaska, so it’s called an A-Star.

These helicopters (also called “choppers” by cool people) have a single-engine and three-blade primary rotor, whatever that means. They are very maneuverable and quick. A-Stars are also easy to start up and switch off, which is nice. Because they are one of the largest non-military helicopters, they are ideal for hauling a half dozen tourists to a glacier. 

A-Star helicopters are one of the most popular commercial aircraft in the world. And you get to ride in one! They are routinely used by law enforcement, medical teams, and those nightly news traffic guys that fly around telling you about bad traffic and highway police chases. A-Stars are also very reliable at high altitudes, which is good when you’re flying over Alaska mountain ranges to land on large chunks of ice. 

If you’re undecided whether to take a Skagway helicopter tour while in port, remember the immortalized words of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1987 movie Predator when he said, “GET TO THE CHOPPA!”

You won’t regret it.