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Composed of more than 37 glaciers, the Juneau Icefield is a big tourist attraction. And with the advent of a new tour company, people can spend more time exploring Juneau's back yard.
"We're going for the independent traveler and local market," said Sean Janes, president of Above and Beyond Alaska, a newly formed, employee-owned business. "(They're) people who are interested in spending a little more time up on the icefield than the typical cruise ship passengerm who spends only a few hours."
Begun in January, Above and Beyond Alaska offers day and multiday glacier camping, mountaineering, ski touring and kayaking trips in the Juneau area. In addition to providing transportation, food and guides, the company outfits clients with the necessary gear, including pants, jackets, boots and gloves.
"We want to make it as easy as possible for people to sign up for our trips, especially people with minimal experience in this area," said Becky Cook, the company's operations manager and majority shareholder. "Our goal is to offer a range of trips, including custom tours that range in diversity, length and variety - everything from the casual to the more adventurous."
Above and Beyond Alaska offers outings that range from day trips to a 10-day adventure package that includes several nights in a hotel or bed-and-breakfast.
"Soft adventure is getting more and more popular," Cook said. "People want to go out for a day or two at a time and then take a shower. Plus, people have limited time and may not want to just one thing with their time off. We have the flexibility to customize our trips to the client's needs."
So far, the company has sold 20 tours for the summer.
"We're getting a lot of activity from our Web site and referrals from friends and families," Cook said. "Plus our association with the JCVB (Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau) and B-and-Bs have been a great source of referrals."
The company also has a close relationship with local tour operators Gastineau Guiding Co. and NorthStar Trekking.
"I've guided for both companies and they've both invested in us," said company president Janes, who has been employed as a guide for the past 10 years. "We're working cooperatively with them regarding permits with the Forest Service and helicopter transportation to the icefield.
"It's been one heck of an adventure from being the guide to being thrown into an ownership role," he added. "I've gained an appreciation of what small business owners go through."
The company holds pretrip and training sessions for clients at the Rock Dump Climbing Gym.
"I think what they're doing is a great idea," said Matt Cecil, owner of the Rock Dump. "They're using the services of a lot of different companies to put together an interesting tour package - a package that is not currently offered in town."
Safety is a top priority of the company, said Matt Foruria, an owner-guide with Above and Beyond Alaska.
"We're not catering to the extreme market," said Foruria. "We've brought together our collective experiences as guides to offer high quality, safe trips to people who are interested in spending more than an hour or two on the icefield."
Offering an extended wilderness experience seems to be the right choice for the fledgling company, said Bob Engelbrecht of NorthStar Trekking, an investor in the new tour operation.
"It's the next logical step. We've watched people come through town that want to go on overnight tours and multiple day excursions and nobody's really doing that here. I think it's a good niche to fill," said Engelbrecht. "We've done some overnights in the past but now we'll primarily do all our overnights with Above and Beyond."
Another Above and Beyond investor, Bob Janes of Gastineau Guiding and Sean Jane's uncle, also predicts success for the new business.
"I think this company has found its niche," he said. "People have different needs and different time slots and are looking to do a variety of things with their time. I think the customer's ability to choose and build their own program will be what sets the company apart from other tours."
As of now there are no other companies in Juneau offering guided multiday tours on the icefield, according to Juneau Convention and Visitor Bureau President and CEO Lorene Kappler.
"The icefield holds such mystery and allure to visitors and locals alike," she said. "I think people will really take advantage of the opportunity to explore it in depth."
Along with providing trip opportunities to independent travelers and locals, Above and Beyond Alaska has developed instructional programs geared toward residents that focus on safety, education and techniques of wilderness activities.
"We really want to establish an identity with the community by providing services to the locals," said operations manager Cook. "Our 'Beyond Program' is educational in nature and consists of different courses to give people certification in certain areas and advance their skills in the outdoors. I'm particularly excited about offering climbing and other courses to women."
As Above and Beyond ventures into its first season, the bottom line for the company's president is the experience.
"With everything that is going on in the world, it is just really amazing to take people out and show them something really unique and wonderful," said Janes. "It's really rewarding."
Joan Pardes is a free-lance writer living in Juneau. Above and Beyond Alaska's Web site is www.beyondak.com.