Alaskan Crew Out-Toughs Bears, Sixty Below…and a Pandemic


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The crew at Steelhead Communications doesn’t think COVID-19 will slow them down. After all, they’ve been chased by grizzly bears, worked in minus-60 degree weather and helicoptered out of some tight places in the fog.  Matt Nevin, Steelhead’s Market Manager has seen his crews through it all from Prudhoe Bay (longitude 148 degrees north) to Kodiak.

“A lot of these towns we work in don’t have amenities,” Nevin told Inside Towers in regard to the COVID impact, “so we’re used to not having them anyway. We’ve had to change a few operational procedures, like drive separate cars to job sites and limit the office to central personnel only, but the impact hasn’t slowed us down. But when three climbers are on one platform, it’s hard to practice social distancing.”

Steelhead, started 22 years ago in Washington (state) then expanding to Alaska, does work for regional giant GCI along with AT&T, Verizon and others. Nevin runs eight crews in total that divide up the electrical, concrete, civil construction and climbing work.

Nevin said his crew has faced a uniquely Alaskan problem: when one of his pickups drove on to a site in Anaktuvuk Pass, three caribou climbed aboard looking for food… and would not leave. “The caribou don’t care,” he said. But compared to being run off of a site by grizzly bears in Kodiak, the caribou don’t seem too bad. As to weathering the winter, his team is a big fan of Canada Goose down jackets (“just need a t-shirt underneath.” Nevin said) and “hot hands” in the gloves and boots. A bigger issue is lack of daylight, sometimes only five hours a day before the headlamps come on.

In the more remote locations, the crew has learned to respect and interact with the villagers who welcome the connectivity to the rest of the world. “They’ve come to know us,” he said.





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