Chandler Watts squared off against his final opponent of the evening, the only man standing between him and a free trip to Alaska to try his board on pristine lines through the Chugach Range.
“Rock, paper, scissors, shoot,” said KSMT’s Johnny Brokaw into the microphone for the hundredth time as the crowd waited for the verdict.
The judges flanked Watts, raising his arms triumphantly as he stood, shocked, in the center of the stage at Jonny-G’s in Frisco. After countless rounds of rolling the proverbial dice against contestants male and female, young and old, Watts had done it: He was the 2014 winner of KSMT’s annual Great Heli Ski Giveaway.
“Honestly, it wasn’t until the drive home that it really hit me that I won,” said Watts, who lives in Dillon and works as a lift operator at Breckenridge Ski Resort. “It was a big shock.”
Tell him what he’s won
As the crowned champion, Watts won a trip for two to Valdez, where co-sponsor Dean Cummings’ H2O Heli Guides of Alaska will take him and a buddy of his choice exploring in the Chugach sometime during the 2015 season. Lindsey Cotton, general manager of KSMT, said though this is the 12th year for the Heli Ski Giveaway, it’s the first time the radio station has partnered with Cummings.
“It was really an honor to work with him on this,” she said. “He’s a legend in the ski community. He’s done so much for safety and avalanche protocol, and he’s an amazing skier.”
The area that H2O covers in Alaska is far-reaching, Cotton said.
“It would be the equivalent of going to the Tenmile Range today, then over to Wolf Creek and then over to the Gore Range,” she said. “It’s incredible how spread out the terrain is, and they have really steep terrain for expert skiers looking for a thrill, but they also have moderate, really long powder runs that go for a couple of miles.”
The grand prize also included airfare provided by Alaska Airlines and gear from H2O.
The Great Heli Ski Giveaway is set up as a tournament bracket, and it’s only open to residents of Summit, Park, Lake, Grand, Clear Creek or Eagle counties. Individuals who previously qualified by calling in to the radio station put their names into a bucket, and Brokaw pulled them out, one by one, to go head to head in intense rounds of rock, paper, scissors.
“It’s interactive, and it’s a fair way to win,” Cotton said. “It’s a mind game, and people seem to have a lot of fun with it; you see how intense people get. It’s such an amazing prize. It’s a bucket list dream living up here in Summit County getting to ski in Alaska.”
Watts said he didn’t go into the contest with any particular strategy.
“It was just dumb luck. I was rooting for the oil change,” he said with a laugh, referring to one of the consolation prizes. “That was the most fun contest I’ve ever participated in.”
Dreaming of Alaska
Originally from Kansas City, Watts moved to Summit County two years ago. He said when his friends from home found out he had won the trip, they all asked to go, but he didn’t want someone tagging along who only skis three days a season. Instead, he chose one of his fellow lift-ops from Breck.
“I promised him months ago when I got qualified, so he’s pretty stoked to go,” Watts said. “He was the only friend who was rooting for me.”
Watts said he has never been heli skiing before, so he plans to hike up the mountain on all his days off now to get in shape and prepare for the trip.
“I’ve been dreaming of going to Alaska since I was 13 and started snowboarding,” he said. “I’m stoked to hit some awesome lines like all of the pros do. … That’s why I’m taking another liftie; it’s the only shot we’ve ever got at this. We were joking, me and my buddy, they say working for Vail is the experience of a lifetime, but going heli skiing is going to be the experience of a lifetime.”