Heli skiing has come a long way since its first incarnation in the Bugaboo Mountains 50 years ago. Austrian mountain guide Hans Gmoser – considered one of the founders of modern mountaineering in Canada – guided his first heli ski trip in 1965 in a slow, piston-engined Bell 47 helicopter, ferrying passengers from a disused saw mill camp into the alpine.
British Columbia is heli ski heaven | Photo Andrew Doran
We know where the secret stashes lie. In the trees, safe from wind effect and sun crust, powder lives longer, undisturbed in its hiding spot until the more adventurous happen upon it, whooping and high fiving all the way home. At Last Frontier, we love our glades. Fortunately for us, there is tree skiing out the door at our remote Bell 2 Lodge!
In my last post, we discussed some of the ins and outs of safety in a heliski operation and how much training we give our guests. Safety is the cornerstone of any heliskiing business and for us, it comes before everything else. There are a lot of things we do to mitigate risk when we’re out there everyday. One of those things is having the right tools, or safety equipment. Along with radios, avalanche probe, shovel and now ABS bags for both guides and guests, everyone out there carries an avalanche transceiver or beacon.
One just never knows when they might go skiing.
When the resorts close and the backcountry begins to dry up, skis will hopefully get their end-of-season wax before being placed in storage. But there should always be one pair of skis handy at all times – the rock skis. Rusted, blunt edges, chipped top sheets and bindings with a disturbing rattle are all hallmarks of a great pair of rock skis. Years ago when they gave you so much joy during their first days on snow, you never thought they would end up in this condition. The exposed core and dried out bases may reek of abuse and neglect, but these former all-mountain power sticks are never forgotten, their spirit lives on by skiing over not just snow but every other kind of natural and man-made surface.
Laying out the turns may cause damage to clothing as well as skis | Photo MPORA
I was breathless standing outside a Parks Canada ranger station in the midday sun – partly because the scene that lay before me was so stunning I could barely stand it, and partly because we’d just climbed 1000 feet straight up the infamous Golden Stairs to the summit of the Chilkoot Pass in Klondike Gold Rush National Park. With one foot still in Alaska and the other crossing the border into British Columbia, it was true, patriot love like I’d never felt before.
And is it enough?Safety has to be the number one priority for a heliskiing operation. Flying around in helicopters and dropping skiers off in remote, mountainous areas is not without risk. At Last Frontier Heliskiing, we spend a lot of time and energy to mitigate as much of that risk as we can.
Some of the best in the business. Our guides during pre-season training. Photo – Jun Yanagisawa
If you’ve ever been to one of the longstanding backcountry refuges in the Swiss French Alps, you will likely have noticed that some of these popular accommodations along some of Europe’s oldest and classic ski traverses can house up to hundreds of people, complete with reception and restaurants. While steeped in history, these comfortable high altitude huts can sometimes feel like one is staying at the Grand Budapest Hotel.
Small groups are the best groups at heli ski lodges | Photo Steve Rosset
When you think about it, skiing and music go hand-in-hand. Case in point: LCD Soundsystem’s Dance Yrself Clean from JP AuClair‘s street segment in All.I.Can. It will never not be the song I play while booting up in the back of my station wagon on a powder day. Everyone’s got a playlist for cruising groomers or hitting booters at the resort (hands up if it’s called something slightly embarrassing like Songs For Shredding) and there are even bands like Fernie BC’s Shred Kelly who are pioneering an entire genre of music they like to call “Stoke Folk”. At Last Frontier, we, too, take a musical approach to skiing.
I often read about people who have left their city life behind and moved to the mountains or the ocean to live a simpler life in some off grid cabin on the edge of nowhere. They live in tiny houses or vans and adapt to a nomadic or wilderness existence, spending their days travelling or growing their own food, often in places where they can ski, ride bikes, surf or climb. Whatever form it takes, whether it’s a couple who traded in their jobs to travel the world in a Westfalia or the guy in Oregon who now lives in a tree house, I have noticed that more often than not, those folks seem to have a limitless supply of capital behind their endeavouring to live a ‘simpler’ existence.
With summer in full effect and everyone taking to the trails, rivers, lakes and patios for their recreational fix, it can be easy to forget about the sensation of sliding on snow. But not for long.
There are those who refuse to acknowledge the change of season and will ski 12 months of the year regardless of snow quality or how many rocks they need to ski over. Year-round skiers will spend days hiking up to remote peaks and glaciers or if it’s in the budget, book a trip to the southern hemisphere where winter conditions await. If you can’t stop dreaming of turns on snow, here’s four ways to get them this summer.
Momentum have been running freestyle and mogul camps on Blackcomb’s Horstman Glacier for more than 20 years | photo by Momentum Camps
In the height of this wild and crazy British Columbia summer, with forest fires raging and heat waves that just won’t quit, I find myself missing winter. These days, every time I hike up into the scorched alpine or bike down a dry and dusty section of single of track, I’m reminded of why I moved to the mountains in the first place: to ski. Summer is great, don’t get me wrong, but this one is taking its toll on my energy levels and motivation to get outside. Instead, I’m sitting in front of a fan watching ski movies between lake swims with the dog, still wrapped in a towel, eating ice cubes straight from the tray. It’s not pretty. On the off-chance that you’re having a similar summer, I’ve put together a few recommendations of my favourite Last Frontier videos to help get you through.
This is why we spend time in the mountains… Photo – Dave Silver
Skiing in the backcountry is never without risk. Be it ski touring, cat skiing or heliskiing. All of those take place outside the controlled environment of a ski resort and as such have an inherently greater risk. Managing that risk is essential to having fun and staying safe. Over the last few years, airbag packs and many other devices have come on the market, all designed to minimize the risk of avalanche hazard either by providing direct, potentially life-saving pieces of technology for use in the moment of being caught in a slide, or for rescuing those unlucky enough to have been buried in an avalanche. Continue reading →
If you journey out into the wilderness far enough, there likely will come a time when you have to cross a flowing body of water with no bridge or conveniently placed stepping stones. It’s a common occurrence in early winter conditions in the backcountry, in which case you may need turn around or slip your boots off and carry them over the stream.
A swift water rescue scenario demonstrates the “line astern” technique | Photo yelp.com
Heli skiing is pretty tough to beat: it’s the ultimate backcountry ski experience and we consider ourselves very fortunate to be living the bucket list year after year. But, despite the obvious pros and upshots – like skiing untouched powder in some of the world’s most beautiful and remote terrain – there are a few things people don’t often tell you about heli skiing. We count five.
It’s tough to imagine anything but pros and upshots… | Photo: Steve Rosset
Weather prediction is a fickle thing. The last two seasons in Western North America haven’t exactly been stellar in the snow department. The only places that have really lucked out are Northern BC and Alaska, and even then, it’s been below average. The difference up there is the averages are enormous. For the rest of us, sure there have been powder days, but it’s definitely been back to back below average seasons. In some cases, like California, they haven’t had a bottomless day in four years. Not good news if you like living life on two skis. But according the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this coming year looks to be a strong El Nino year and that can mean waist deep turns across the West. Yum.
Typical El Nino season in North America. More Precip in California…less in the Western US and Southern BC. Good up north.