Heli-Skiing in Whistler, Better Than Ever
By Sean McDonald
My ski day started like many other ski days— get up, get dressed, a quick Americano, toss the gear in the car and head for mountains. After a casual breakfast at the base in Pemberton however, followed by some safety and helicopter etiquette training, it quickly became evident that this ski day was going to be very different.
Heli-skiing is a wave of emotions—watching the first group load into the Bell 407 flying machine I got a bit jealous, then as we load our gear and climb in the cabin the excitement really kicks in. Once we hear the Rolls-Royce turbines hum as the blades whir up to speed, adrenaline trumps all– that taste-of-the-unknown feeling that makes new experiences so vital. Suddenly, almost imperceptibly, the helicopter starts climbing past the 8,500 foot emerald wall of Mount Currie and we’re in the air, in total awe, and en route to some delicious ski terrain through alpine bowls, rolling ridge lines, perfectly spaced hemlock stands, and some cool drainage and pillow features.
It’s hard not to make friends when you just shared the coolest ride of your life. Parker, Laurent, Robbie and Sea-bass are bankers a long way from the bright lights of the Big Apple. I can almost see endorphins visibly leaking out of their helmeted heads—minds already blown before we even get our first turns. Our professional guides Ty and Rich make everyone comfortable with their friendly confidence and masterful route-finding as we snake through the snowy rugged terrain, always mindful of the tip, “If the guide skis in a lightning bolt path, so do you. No short cuts!”
There’s untracked powder, and then there’s untracked powder as far as the eye can see. We enjoy the latter, all ripping as hard as Mike Douglas or Travis Rice (in our own minds anyway) for three runs before arriving at a snow-carved picnic table complete with red-checkered table cloth and a sleek blue helicopter as a lunch date. Add in a background of glaciers, mountain peaks, frozen lakes and stunning blue skies to make the gourmet food taste even better.
After lunch we turn things up a notch. Our pilot, Andy, expertly tucks the helicopter right smack onto the peak of a mountain. Carefully, we exit the bird, gave Andy the thumbs up, and brace for the snowblast that inevitably accompanies the thrust of rotors as the machine takes off and, nose pointed slightly down, vanishes. We are left with the silent vastness of the BC wilderness and a mountain of untracked powder.
We rack up 14,000 vertical feet before making the final descent back to the tranquil farmland of the Pemberton Valley. Knackered and basking in what just happened we enter the lodge and are greeted with smiling faces, nachos and the all-important après beers.
Will my life ever be the same? I love ski touring lift-accessed slackcountry and have previously enjoyed the awesomeness of catskiing but the feeling of squeezing into a Bell 407 with 4 friends and staring down a day of untouched snow in terrain of unparalleled beauty makes heliskiing, unquestionably, the pinnacle of the sport. Book a Heli-skiing trip and see for yourself.
(Update: November 2015. One of Whistler’s Heli-skiing providers, Coast Range Heliskiing, is no longer operating but there are numerous other options available to get you to the goods. Check out Whistler.com for details.)