IT is doubtful whether Enya had soared over the icy wilderness of Alaska's glacial valleys when she produced her hugely successful debut album Watermark, but her music provided the perfect aural dimension to our helicopter flight over this breathtaking land. As we skimmed above the aquamarine pinnacles of the Hole In The Wall Glacier, Enya's atmospheric blend of classical strings and pop rhythms transported us back to the age of ice, when the glaciers forged huge U-shaped valleys across the land. Running along the coast of southeast Alaska are deep fjords and snow-capped mountains, where ice still has an immense impact on the landscape. Frozen masses carve their way down the valleys to the sea, although most of the glaciers in this part of the world are retreating. Only 200 years ago Glacier Bay - a national park and preserve located west of the Alaskan capital, Juneau, in the upper reaches of the Inside Passage - was covered by a huge glacier that was more than 1,200 metres thick and 32 kilometres wide, and stretched more than 160 kilometres to the St Elias Range of mountains. Today, the Grand Pacific Glacier lies along the US-Canada border in Tarr Inlet at the top of the bay created by its recession. One way to get a taste of the stark beauty of the bay is by sea, but there are also many operators offering flights over the region's majestic fields of ice. I toured Glacier Bay on the Star Princess, one of six cruise ships operated by Princess Tours that ply the waters along the coast of Alaska from May to September. The cruise itinerary included a helicopter flight out of Juneau and a ride in a six-seater aircraft from Haines, but there are scores of private operators in the area who can organise flights for visitors wishing to explore this timeless land. The operator for our flight across the Juneau ice field was Era Helicopters, which was established in 1948 and also organises tours out of Anchorage, Valdez and Denali. The flight covered 104 kilometres of the ice field and included a landing on Norris Glacier. The view from the ground was awesome, walls of ice rose above us and a misty veil hung over the snow-capped mountain peaks. Then, back in the air, we hovered above the crevasses of the Hole In The Wall Glacier before moving on to Taku, the ice field's largest and only advancing glacier. Throughout the journey the ethereal sounds of Enya filled the airwaves as we hugged the steep valley walls. It was a bleak overcast day, with rain drizzling down the helicopter's windscreen. At one point our pilot took the chopper deep into the mist. Unable to determine the contours around us, he brought it to a standstill and we hovered perilously in the cloud cover. Then, he jerked the throttle and we dropped through the clouds into the valley below. It was an unforgettable feeling. Our flight above the glacier cost US$155, and lasted about 100 minutes. Other firms running helicopter tours include Coastal Helicopters Inc, from Juneau; Temsco Helicopters, out of Juneau and Skagway; and C&I Corp, from Ketchikan. Prices range from US$100 to US$199 depending on the destination and duration. Probably the most famous of the glaciers in the Juneau area is the Mendenhall Glacier. One of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska, there are many bus tours to it, and you can also take a taxi. The glacier is pulling back its icy tendrils at a rate of about eight metres a year. Like all glaciers, Mendenhall appears a vivid aquamarine, because the densely compressed ice crystals absorb all colours of the spectrum except blue. Some of the companies that organise land-based tours to it include Ptarmigan Ptransport and Ptours, from US$18 per person; Mendenhall Glacier Transport Ltd, from US$12.50 per person; and Capital Cab, where tours for one to seven people can be arranged for US$45 per hour. Another way to experience this land of ice from the air is in a six-seater Cessna aircraft. The cruise itinerary included several flights across the region and the one we went on was part of a longer excursion that began in Skagway, but our flight around the valleys of Glacier Bay took off from Haines and was operated by Wings of Alaska. The cost for a 70-minute flight as part of the cruise was US$124 per person, but Wings also offers hourly charter rates that range from US$240 to US$600 depending on the size and model of the plane. Flights work out at about US$60 per person per hour. Again it was an overcast day and the Cessna bobbed about in the air currents as we navigated around the misty headlands and dropped into the glacial valleys. But the flight was less bumpy than expected and the panoramic views of glaciers that feed into Muir Inlet were amazing. The inlet, named after naturalist John Muir who explored the area in the late 1870s, is one of many that feed into Glacier Bay from the Fairweather, Alsek and Takhinsha mountain ranges. Word of Muir's exploration brought steam ships to the area carrying the first tourists, but in September 1889 a devastating earthquake transformed the bay into an impenetrable maze of floating ice and for many years the area was inaccessible. Although the giant masses of ice appear as immovable as any mountain, they are in constant motion, engaged in an endless cycle of advance and retreat, providing an ideal place for observers to study the processes that helped shape the world during the last Ice Age. The origin of the glaciers is high up in the mountains where heavy snow falls exceed snow melt. As the snow accumulates it is compressed into granules of ice, which build up in a dense mass that gradually moves downhill. When a glacier gains ice and moves forward it is said to be advancing, but if the loss of ice at the lower elevations is greater than the amount of snow being amassed in the mountains, then the glacier goes into retreat. Some glaciers do not reach the sea, those that do are called tidewater glaciers. The best way to witness the interaction between the sea and ice is by taking a boat trip up the inlets to the face of the glaciers themselves. Glacier Bay Tours and Cruises - which has booking centres in Juneau, Haines, Skagway and a number of other Alaskan cities - offers a flight and cruise package which explores the bay's 'west arm'. The boat trip, costing US$385 from Haines, passes the massive Grand Pacific Glacier, Margerie Glacier and many other tidewater glaciers along Johns Hopkins Inlet. And if you still haven't seen enough of this world of ice and want to get a real taste of adventure then Out of Bounds Adventures in Juneau can come up with a customised tour to the glaciers, including kayaking in Tracy Arm fjord, para-gliding on to the Juneau ice field and hiking or mountain biking on Mendenhall Glacier.