News from the North – May 2020

May 20, 2020 Mike Watling

Isolation – Northern BC Style

I have received a number of emails from people reaching out to ask how we are doing, so felt it was time to touch base and wish you well during these bizarre times.

The town of Stewart consists of 300 people and is home to our Ripley Creek base. Yesterday when I drove through town, there were just two pedestrians on Main Street, only one person in the post office and no one in the grocery store. I drove for two hours along the main Highway 37 to our other base at Bell 2 Lodge and saw three trucks and only one car along the way.

While this may strike most people as deserted, for us up here it’s normal. Remote, quiet and generally unaffected by the rest of the world. What is not normal is to see our helipads empty, our bar draped with dust sheets and only one lone pair of ski boots on the drying rack. It’s been -15°C at night, the skies are cloudless and it looks like we are set for another four bluebird days with no wind. While it sure is nice to have the sunshine, it’s a bitter, bitter end to the 2020 season. We are gutted not to be out in the mountains sharing the magic with you.

The 10th – 17th of March was for us as haywire as I have ever seen it. Rules changing, borders closing, travel bans, Germans unable to ski in Whistler and still wanting to come heliskiing, a conference call with 38 heliski and snowcat operators, guests being cancelled by other heli ops wanting to now move and ski with us, travel insurance companies (understandably) lost, Swiss being summoned back home; we even had a staff member involved in a serious car accident, now thankfully recovering well on his parents’ couch.

Our sights were set on making it through to Friday 20th March as our last day of flying. Despite a cocoon mentality setting in, come the morning of 18th it was clear the walls were falling down around us and the risks to continue flying and skiing operations became too great. A group of determined Australians convinced us they should be allowed a ‘Last Supper’ – we obliged and they celebrated their own version of communion. In fact, at one point they were seriously considering hunkering down permanently at Bell 2. I connected with them a week ago and they were relieved to be quarantining at home – not in a 5m² hotel room as the new rules now dictate for Aussies returning home from abroad. Thursday 19th was our last morning with guests. The 19th March was a big day for another reason. It was Hannes’ Birthday (35 if anyone asks). The smoke machine and party chest quietly made it over to his cabin and then everything else that ensued until the wee hours was anything but quiet. Happy Birthday Hannes. One to remember.

A few days of earnest tidy-up around the lodge followed, while we planned for staff to make it back to their homes all around the world.

We have been concentrating on our ‘bubble’ for the last three weeks; staff, guests, our families and our business. It’s been busy in the office (though most are working from home) re-booking those guests that missed their trip this year for next year.

We now have a skeleton crew of about six at Bell 2 Lodge working with JoJo our Lodge Manager. A painting crew is refreshing chalets and we have just launched a comprehensive new recycling program. While the ‘pause button’ has been pressed we are trying to pull as much positivity out of this situation as we can.

Bell 2 Lodge’s gas station remains open as an ‘essential service’. For travelers heading north or south that may need assistance, we have a limited number of rooms and simple take-out food available.

If you are one of those thinking about heliskiing next winter, we have ‘loosened’ our booking conditions in order to give guests peace of mind.

We are basically now a month ahead of schedule, planning for next year.

On my drive to Bell 2 Lodge yesterday I listened to an interview recorded last July with the legendary Scottish comedian Billy Connelly. When asked how he tackled earth shattering events with comedy he replied, “Head-on, no half measures.’ Billy has retired from comedy now but I’m convinced he would find a way to bring a smile and a laugh, despite the gravity of this situation.

We are cognisant that there are many people out there who are having to cope with much more pressing matters than not being able to heliski and despite our (possibly false) sense of safety out here in the wilderness, our daily thoughts are with those folks.

Wishing you, family, colleagues and all your new Zoom friends strength as you face grief of any kind.

Please feel free to connect with us anytime.