The AStar B3E helicopter peels away and two fly-fishing guides and three guests are left on the banks of Alaska’s Talachulitna River. The weather is moody—temperamental enough that the flight almost didn’t happen—and a drizzle tests the Orvis waders everyone is wearing. Suddenly there’s a loud snap and crash from the other side of the riverbank and both guides, Skip Mullen and Lel Tone, feel for their gun holsters, which are attached to their chests like vests.
It’s just a tree limb shifting with the wind, but “we have to be on guard for bears—all the time,” says Tone. The riverbanks, littered with salmon carcasses, are an ursine “candy shop,” adds Mullen, especially in late August when salmon return upriver and die after spawning.
There are more than enough live ones too. Within minutes, everyone in the group has caught a ruby-red 10-pound sockeye salmon. The skies clear and the sun begs people to shed layers. Lunch—tomato bisque, turkey and cranberry sandwiches, cheese, crackers, chocolate chip cookies and cold beer—is served on the river bank. “In Alaska, you make hay when you can,” says Mullen. “This is what
Mullen and Tone are two of a half-dozen professional guides who provide one-on-one instruction, guiding and, by the end of the trip, friendship at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge. Olympic gold medalist Tommy Moe and ski pioneer Mike Overcast, who started Chugach Powder Guides, spotted a slice of paradise 70 miles from Anchorage, Alaska, in the Tordrillo Range during a flyover in 2004. They landed their floatplane—still the only way to access it—on Judd Lake. At the time there was one shuttered cabin. Today, that 5,600-square-foot lodge features six bedrooms, three large community spaces, a dining room, a full bar and a commercial kitchen staffed by two on-site chefs. It was renovated in early 2017, combining frontier Alaskan aesthetic with contemporary lodge comforts, from Wi-Fi to fur throws.
Nearby sits a second four-bedroom, 4,600-square-foot Alpine-modern lodge. Also on property are three additional cabins, including an ultraprivate retreat designed for groups of up to seven people, which comes with its own helipad. There’s a mini-workout room with adjoining sauna because polar jumps between it and the lake are part of the itinerary. All of it serves as a launchpad for the supersize recreation that awaits in the Alaskan bush and the requisite decompressing that follows. It’s not just fly-fishing, it’s heli-fly-fishing. It’s not just hiking, it’s walking on the state’s third largest glacier. They’re not just cocktails, they’re margaritas made with 2,000-year-old glacial ice. And the lake isn’t only a runway, it’s prime for stand-up paddleboarding, waterskiing and wakesurfing. Looking for fun on two wheels? TML just upped its heli-accessed fat-tire biking game with a state-of-the-art rack that can transport riders and bikers at the same time.
In the winter, TML is the home base for skiers and snowboarders accessing the surrounding 1.2 million acres of terrain via helicopter—completing Moe’s original vision. “Like European [Olympic] skiers, such as Franz Klammer, who build hotels at ski resorts, this is my contribution to the ski community,” he says. But in the 12 years of operation, he and Overcast have transformed the property into an equally appealing summer destination for all types of adventure-seekers—“keeping up with the Jonses,” he quips.
It’s like sleepaway camp for adults (and kids), without the cafeteria food. Instead, private chefs meet every eater’s demand—all day long. Nobody goes hungry between the breakfast scrambles, picnic lunches, raclette happy hour and three-course dinners, all paired with a 200-bottle wine cellar and full bar, where the day’s guides double-down as cocktail-makers by night. Guests looking to turn the evening to low, instead, can opt for yoga, massages and a soak in the wood-fired hot tub. Or, all of
The opportunities are many; the agenda is up to the guest... and the weather. From families looking for a technology detox to a men’s or women’s trip focused solely on fly-fishing otherwise inaccessible territory, TML is all about choose-your-own-adventure. All-inclusive rate, summer $1,100 per day, winter $14,000 per week, tordrillomountainlodge.com