Dine Atop an Actual Glacier in Central Alaska on a 'Heli-Picnic'

Feast on Alaskan seafood, game, and caviar in a remote landscape accessible only by helicopter.

Tordrillo Mountain Lodge helicopter excursion
Photo: Brad Japhe

Applying any sense of scale to the Alaskan backcountry is futile. A landscape like this is best meant to inspire amazement, not measurement, and experiences here often defy imagination and reason. For example, high above one of the world's largest ice fields, you can enjoy a picnic on a perch of verdant meadow suspended between jagged peaks. Sip chardonnay paired with fresh-caught salmon on top of a literal glacier, accessible only by helicopter. For guests at one remote luxury property, this is just another afternoon in the Last Frontier.

Tordrillo Mountain Lodge abuts a pristine alpine lake more than 60 miles west of the closest road system, under the shadows of its eponymous range. Guests typically arrive by way of a 40-minute-long float plane ride from Anchorage. Once on the ground they can opt for a number of seasonally-appropriate outdoor adventures, like kayaking and fat tire biking in the summer months, salmon fishing though the fall, and heli-skiing period from winter to spring. These are just some of the thrill-seeking experiences they expect when paying upwards of $6000 per person over a three-night stay.

But even the most adventurous travelers need some rest and relaxation, and so do property co-founders—and lifelong friends—Mike Overcast and Tommy Moe. The former is a heli-skiing pioneer (a type of backcountry skiing dependent upon helicopter access of remote terrain), the latter a 1994 Olympic downhill champion. Operating the luxury lodge since 2006, they recently devised a novel way to let guests chill while retaining the thrill.

Tordrillo Mountain Lodge helicopter excursion
Courtesy of Tordrillo Mountain Lodge

"We call it 'heli-picnicking,'" explains Overcast. "Your guide can end a fishing trip at a beautiful bend covered in wildflowers and prepare a barbecue as you watch the salmon migrate up the wild Alaskan river. Or you can set up a raclette dining experience on a nunatak surrounded by glaciers."

These picnics will set you back between $1000 to $5000 in total, depending on how far afield you want to fly and how lavish you want the menu. On the more extravagant end it could include up to an hour of roundtrip flight-seeing. Traveling at this level of luxury, you probably won't want to spare the caviar. But executive chef Stewart Rhodes celebrates comfort fare that prioritizes flavor over flair. So a typical spread incorporates an extensive charcuterie board—populated with dried Alaskan game—banh mi sandwiches, and king crab bisque. Some of the food is what you might expect: super-fresh halibut and salmon caught earlier that day. Other elements are a welcome surprise.

"Being from Tennessee I enjoy sharing a little Memphis-style BBQ with our guests," says Rhodes, who has helmed the kitchen since 2018. "My dry rub ribs are a fan favorite and my proprietary spice blend is a well-guarded secret. My goal is for the food we serve to be as memorable as their adventures in the mountains."

That's a mighty tall order to fill in this neck of the woods. Just consider this typical run of show: Taking off from the lush green meadows of Judd Lake, in the lodge's backyard, the helicopter will fly you over an endless flow of glaciers within minutes. This is the Tordrillo Mountain valley, covered in thousands of square miles of ice. Pockmarks over its surface are filled with glacial lakes, painted in ethereal hues of emerald and turquoise.

Tordrillo Mountain Lodge helicopter excursion
Brad Japhe

Just beyond the clutches of ice your pilot will find a rocky outcrop upon which to gently set down. Your guides disembark, laying out blankets, foldable chairs, and coolers before effervescent aperitif pours out in the form of Champagne or craft ales sourced from local(ish) darling Denali Brewing. As appetizers are assembled, you'll enjoy a bird's-eye view of Trimble glacier hugging the opposing wall of a deep canyon.

Either before or after the main course—depending on how much wine you drink—you'll be led on a leisurely hike through some of this otherworldly terrain. If you're feeling particularly daring, it might even include a quick dip into one of those glacial pools. The lodge prides itself on an experienced collection of adventure specialists across the board. They won't let you get into anything you can't safely handle. But if you're lucky enough to have Tommy Moe as your guide, the prerequisite expertise is girded by an infectious comedic energy. It's the sort of vibe that inspires doing things for the laugh. "You got this … Roll into it," he says as you wade deeper into water that is precisely 32 degrees Fahrenheit. "There you go; popsicle man!"

Warm blankets and hot toddies await back at the picnic site. And so you may as well indulge a small measure of silliness. Meanwhile, the joie de vivre of such an experience, like the landscape itself, is unquantifiable.

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