Next time you're at Costco picking up a 48-roll pack of toilet paper and a couple 50-pound bags of dog food, what happens if a sudden urge to carve S-turns in pristine thigh-deep powder suddenly overpowers you?
Now -- if your wallet is fat enough -- you can act on the impulse. Say hello to discount heliskiing.
Costco, the nation's third-largest retailer, has partnered with Valdez Heli-Camps to offer a punch card that buys 25,000 vertical feet of skiing in the Chugach Mountains for $999, including three nights lodging. That's a discount of about $600 in the high-end pursuit that can cost skiers and boarders thousands of dollars a day.
"Costco approached us last year with a desire to provide high-quality adventure experiences," said Valdez Heli-Camps president Matt White.
"At first I was shocked and then thrilled," he added.
"Costco offered us a unique opportunity to reach snow riders that may not have considered heliskiing in Alaska -- skiers or snowboarders that have more time to dedicate to their sport than money."
The program is about six weeks old and available mainly at Costco's Web site, which reaches 13 million people a day, according to Jay Nierstheimer, an inventory manager for the company. It's the only heliski offering in the "Gifts & Tickets -- Skiing" section of Costco's site.
"The economy is getting back to being a little more stable, but people are still really watching what they're spending their money on," Nierstheimer said. "It's very basic, and we try to keep it as basic as we can. But saving $600, that's really eye-opening."
Nierstheimer said the new program was going "really well" though he declined to offer numbers.
"It's something we're impressed with," he said. "People seeing it know what they're get into, so there's not a lot of explaining we have to do."
White said his company mainly sees two types of skiers -- "the more-money-than-time crowd and the more-time-than-money crowd." The new program targets the latter.
"It gets them in, gets them a taste and gets them going," he said, and some skiers upgrade to a bigger package. Plus, he said, "An empty seat on the helicopter today (is one) I can't sell tomorrow."
But don't expect a flood of Alaska's heliski operators following suit.
"We are not going the Costco route," said Chris Owens, general manager of Chugach Powder Guides in Girdwood. "We investigated this and found that in order to cut our prices to that level we would have to cut out vital safety and customer service that we just aren't willing to cut.
"We are going the route of adding more value ... rather than going the bargain-basement route for a product that simply isn't built that way."
Chugach Powder Guides, which is now a part of a larger nationwide company call EpicQuest, began offering snowcat skiing Thursday, an option more popular with Southcentral skiers than the pricier heliskiing.
About half of Owens' snowcat clients are Alaskans, he said, and the company offers a 10 percent discount to anyone with an Alyeska Ski Resort pass -- as well as midweek specials and bulk discounts.
"Put simply," Owens said, "we do everything we can to show some love to the local market and to enable people to do this."
Reach reporter Mike Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4329.