The Inside Scoop on Heli-Skiing in Whistler

The Inside Scoop on Heli-Skiing in Whistler


Over at the Whistler Sabbatical Project this week we met John Furneaux, ace mountaineer and guide with Whistler Heli-Skiing.

If talking with a guy who’s summited Everest twice and still chooses to spend most of his time here in the Coast Mountains doesn’t convince you to give Heli-Skiing or Heli-Boarding a try allow us here at the Whistler Insider to twist your arm with our “Five Things You Didn’t Know About Heli-Skiing.” See you in the snow.

#1 The Pack Lunches Rule.
Forget about soggy tuna-salad on mashed Wonderbread, Whistler Heli-Skiing gets their pack lunches from the Bearfoot Bistro. “We do make sandwiches,” says Bearfoot executive chef Melissa Craig. “Fresh turkey, veggie or albacore tuna on Monte Cristo bread.” Craig, a culinary heavy hitter with numerous awards to her name, also whips up a variety of homemade soups and specialty teas to keep you riding all day, plus granola bars for everyone’s pockets. “We think warm, hearty and easy to eat,” Craig says. “Just good energy food.” Gourmet lunches make the powder taste that much sweeter and the Bearfoot also hosts Whistler Heli-Skiing’s daily après video sessions. Champagne sabering anyone?

#2 Your gear might not cut it.
Are your boards old, tired or worse…not fat? Ripping deep Coast Mountain powder is a lot more fun (and easier) with proper equipment beneath your feet. Whistler Heli-Skiing maintains their own fleet of top-of-the-line rental gear to ensure you’ll have the best possible ride. Brand new 2011 Burton, K2, Salomon and Rossignol skis and boards might be the difference maker you need to shred that bottomless pow like a pro. Want more information? Check out this Whistler Insider Gear Guide: Best Board for Whistler – Rocker or Camber?

#3 It’s not “Experts only”
Heli-skiing often invokes image of sponsored ski and snowboard pros jumping out of the chopper onto super exposed ridges and ripping ultra-steep pitches peppered with cliff bands and the requisite crevasse jump at the bottom. The reality is heli-skiing is accessible to almost any skill level. “We have a couple different packages,” says guide John Furneaux. “The Elite package is designed for experts who want those big lines but we also have the Classic package geared towards intermediates. It’s just like blue runs with perfect, untouched powder.” And fear not, there is no jumping out of the heli— that only happens in the movies.

#4 You can patch an iPod into the Helicopter’s intercom system.
“But we don’t do it with heli-skiing trips,” says Steve Gray of Blackcomb Aviation. “Typically we are monitoring three radio channels at a time so we keep it quiet to stay safe and make sure no other aircraft run into us.” Steve adds that an AStar B3, the same kind of machine they use for heli-skiing, recently broke the world altitude record and landed on the top of Mount Everest (8848 m, 29029 ft). “Based on that, our aircraft are capable of landing on any of the peaks in this area,” Steve says.

#5 You might be sharing a seat with a Hollywood star.
Blackcomb Aviation has provided helicopters for over 30 feature Hollywood films that have shot in the area, as well as provided shuttles and heli-skiing for the stars. So you might be sitting in the same seat that once held Mark Walberg, Amy Adams, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Chris Martin from Coldplay or those sled dogs from 8 Below.

#6 (Bonus) The Helicopter is sometimes called “the Bird.”
Heli-Skiing and heli-boarding is the most fun you can have in the snow but it’s important to learn the lingo in order to sound that much cooler when you get back home. For example, “The most important rule is to make sure you keep your head down when getting out of the Bird.” You’ll be the talk of the water cooler for sure.

An Insider Exclusive Video

We grabbed mountaineer/guide John Furneaux for a quick chat about what it takes to make a career of being in the mountains and why the local terrain is some of his favourite.

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Feet Banks

Feet Banks

Feet Banks moved to Whistler at age 12 so his parents could live the dream and ski as much as possible. He ended up living it too. After leaving home Feet did a few good stints in warmer climates and 4 years of writing school before returning to the mountains to make ski movies, hammer out a journalism career and avoid the 9-5 lifestyle as long as possible. He’s been a hay farmer, a hole digger, a magazine editor and has a jump named after him on Blackcomb Mountain, Feet’s Air. It’s tiny.