our new helicopter ski cohorts reminds me of the first episode of
“Survivor.” We assemble at the Heli pad for the adventure of a lifetime. I size up the other “castaways” to
determine whom the strong skiers would be, and identify the potential weak links
heli ski trip.
Admittedly, as an expert eastern
skier, my experience with powder was minimal and time logged in
helicopters was nil. A quick scan of the tribe shows only three
women, myself included, in a sea of forty resolute men. The group’s
origins are an international blend of US, Canadian, British, German,
Dutch and Italian.
mission does not involve a million dollar reward, but a secret
powder stash, reached only by helicopter, or a mountaineering trek
up 3,000 vertical through waist high snow. Our group is drawn here
by a common greed for deep untracked snow; the helicopter ride is a
While our expertly trained
Mountain Guides privately discuss their strategies and divide us
into four teams of eleven, we are welcomed to a buffet breakfast.
Some eat as if this is their last meal, others like myself can only
nibble nervously. The excitement level in the room is noticeably
Our briefing on
and the operation of avalanche transceivers takes 45 minutes. As a
practice drill, the guide hides his transceiver, emulating that he
is lost in a slide, and our newly formed “tribe” must find him.
finding the buried skier had been an immunity challenge, all eleven
of us would have been voted off. But we had paid to play, so we
endure further rules and reg’s before we are cleared for take off.
Special skis, included in our
package, await us emblazoned with our names on duct tape labels.
Atomic bright yellow fat skis that are designed to
float on the deep powder become our toys for the day.
Atomic was the first ski
manufacturer to design “fats” about two decades ago. Now many more
ski manufacturers are producing
rocker ski gear for powder neophytes.
At last we are boarding the
helicopter. The thumping whine of the chopper blades matches the
excited beat of my heart. The gale force wind from the propellers
rushes around us as we file into the helicopter bench seats and
buckle in for a gripping ride.
It’s worth the price of admission
just to soar 100 feet above the jagged peaks of the 11,000’ Purcell
Mountains. The helicopter pilot swoops down into a snow-covered
valley, and up again – like a bird.
The guide explains that the majority
of the premium bucks for heli-skiing goes toward keeping the Vietnam
vintage $2.5 million Bell 212 helicopter in mint condition and
topped off with costly jet fuel.
Scouting for the ideal powder is an
exact art. The guides’ primary concern is avalanche and crevasse
danger. R.K. Heli Company has access to a territory of 780 square
miles. That is 70 times more terrain than Whistler/Blackcomb ski
a large enough landing area, however, is not a concern. Our pilot
perches the chopper on a space smaller than my bathroom, a knife’s
edge mountaintop, for the 2 minutes it takes us to disembark and
crouch in our huddle. Then with a fury of wind, noise and snow – the
chopper leaves us to our new surroundings of nothing but immense
mountains and astonishing silence.
We take our first run of 2,500
vertical feet in a spectacular glaciated snowfield blanketed with
deep fluffy powder. Our adept ski guide leads the way, leaving his
flawless signature in the snow for us to follow. He points his pole
at concealed crevasses and potential slide areas as we stop to catch
our breath and take “if my friends could see me now” photos.
Our two token snowboarders are
understandably tempted to rip some huge arcs in the wide-open bowls.
That is a no-no, grounds for tribal council. We had been instructed
to ski within a pole’s length of each other’s tracks (no powder
pigs), and always behind the guide (or you could ski into “grave”
With the wide skis, we float down
the moderately pitched glaciers
one by one; often matching powder turns forming picture perfect
eights in the snow. I am surprised, and frankly relieved, at how my
boards glide through the billowing snow as I bounce from one soft
turn to the next. The smiles among our group are almost unanimously
Only one intermediate skiing member
is not up to the task; frazzled by her frequent falls in the
abundant powder and frustrated about holding the group back. She
would not have earned lunch had this been a reward challenge, but we
all share a companionable picnic after two runs in our awesome
One more run following lunch was
included in our $599 Canadian dollars package. Eight of our tribe of eleven eagerly
step up to pay the $90 Canadian for a fourth helicopter run, with
the following rationalizations: “It’s only Canadian money,” and “I
waited my entire life for this,” and “it’s too much fun to stop,”
even “my wife will forgive me.” My excuse, “you need at least one
R.K. Heli has the unique offering of
day helicopter ski trips. This is an ideal add-on to a
vacation in the Canadian Rockies. You can do a day and try your
wings at heli-skiing without committing to an entire week.
helicopter ski operations offer
3-7 day trips for $4,000-$12,000, including accommodations, meals,
fat skis, and 10,000 to 15,000 vertical of skiing per day.
recommend this activity to expert skiers and snowboarders in strong
physical shape who are able to “survive” all types of conditions and
terrain, not just steep and deep. This is wilderness skiing in an
uncontrolled environment. If you are not certain, then you should
not sign up.
The brochure clearly states there is
no guarantee of weather or snow conditions. In other words, you may
not have that blue bird powder day pictured in the promotional
material. Clouds and snowfall often limit heli trips to below tree
line skiing on gladed runs. Conditions range from “dry powder to
spring crud and wind crust challenges.”
We were supremely well rewarded on
our heli ski day with billowing powder off the magnificent Rocky
Mountain summits in glorious sunshine. It was a life-altering
experience, no lift lines, no trail signs, just 35 feet of snow on
the remote Farnham Glacier.
Back at the heli plex in time for
après ski, our newly bonded tribe raised glasses of Kokanee beer and
toasted with “snow-eating” grins. We hadn’t won a million dollars
but we had experienced a million dollar day. We not only survived,
we had thrived in the Canadian Rockies. More
Heli Ski Stories