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Mike Wiegele's Heli on Earth

Mike Wiegele's Heli on Earth

Features
By Darren Braun
posted: 07/31/2002

"You should see the snow we got the last two weeks. The skiing has been fabulous. Maybe the best ever for this time of the year." Mike Wiegele can't suppress a giggle. And I can't help smiling along. The 63-year-old mountain entrepreneur is doing what he loves best. No matter that he had a hip replacement two years ago or that his knees hurt all the time or that he's probably logged more vertical heliskiing miles than anybody in history. Skiing is still what Mike Wiegele loves to do more than anything else in the world.

"It has been unbelievable," he says, the faint burr of his Austrian roots still dancing with his words. "The powder is so deep right now that it's like skiing on air. It's just wonderful."

It's rare these days to encounter a ski businessman who'd rather chat about skiing than profits. Rarer still to find a successful ski businessman who remains deeply touched by the sport that nurtured him. "Everything I've done in my life was done for the love of skiing," he says. "And I've been lucky. For I also encountered people along the way who've encouraged me to aim high with my passions."

Aim high he did. In every aspect of his life: as a racer, instructor, coach, guide, heliskiing entrepreneur, local philanthropist and mountain-resort developer. He has been decorated for bravery by Canada's governor general for a high-mountain rescue in which he risked his life to save others, and has been inducted into that country's Ski Hall of Fame. He's led the fight for funding for avalanche research, launched a ski guides' association and tirelessly supported ski racing. He even started a free weekend heliski program for local kids. "One of our apprentice guides this year started skiing in that program," Wiegele says with unrestrained glee.

"Mike's always been an inspiration to me," says former World Cup champion Ken Read, whom Wiegele coached at Lake Louise in the Sixties. "He made us all believe we could achieve whatever we set our minds to."

Wiegele is a true innovator, with the natural grace and charisma that makes him an effortless role model-whatever he's doing. He is best known, however, for the legendary helicopter-skiing company that bears his name. Based in the remote logging town of Blue River, B.C.-in a deep river valley separating two of the snowiest mountain ranges anywhere-Wiegele reigns over a domain that encompasses 3,000 square miles of some of the most sought-after powder-skiing real estate on earth. To the east are the mythical Monashee Mountains, hoary, glacier-covered monsters that drop 5,000 to 6,000 vertical feet to the valley floors. To the west lie the Cariboos, snow-pasted and no less imposing. Mind-boggling vertical. Incredibly light powder. The total area offers a thousand peaks to choose from. That's more terrain than all of the lift-served slopes in North America-combined. And more memorable descents than anyone should be allowed to ski in one lifetime.

For hardcore powder enthusiasts-skiers who travel the world in search of perfect snow-Wiegele's is the top rung of the ladder. It is especially so for those who like to be pampered with their powder. Wiegele World-as locals call the resort village that Mike has built up in Blue River over the past 27 years-features a deluxe dining and lodging experience. And it attracts the crème de la crème of the skiing world. "We get about 2,000 skiers a year now," Wiegele says. "And they come from all over the world-the U.S., France, Germany, Austria, even South America. It's a lot of people. But not so many that we can't treat them all with a personal touch. And that's something I will always fight to preserve."

Wiegele's famous hospitality doesn't come cheap. A week at the resort will set you back about $4,500. That doesn't include airfare, but does include nearly everything else: from ski rentals to three-star dining to unlimited heliskiing. Which explains why he has no trouble filling up his lodge. "We have a loyal clientele," Wiege says. "We have a return rate of nearly 80 percent." Wiegele's is one of those fortunate businesses where clients need to make reservations a year in advance. "Mike is the consummate host," says Canadian downhill star Rob Boyd, who has known Wiegele since Boyd was a young racer on the national team in the Eighties. "But what strikes me more is his enthusiasm for skiing. He still has a little kid's excitement every time he clicks into his bindings."

Turning Points
As a young farmer growing up in Karnten, Austria, Wiegele was mad for skiing and racing. "But farmers don't ski," he says. "They point the finger at you and tell everyone you're crazy." Still, he pursued his love affair with the sport. There was no money in it, and his family had little patience with it. But he persisted. "The snow was not that great in my region," he admits. "Skiing was not taken very seriously. Still, I would get my training in between feeding the cows and doing my other chores." Slowly, he began to improve. As a junior, he was national team material.

"The first turning point in my life came in 1955," he says.

"I was training with the Provincial Team in Bad Gastein in Salzburg. It was a beautiful powder morning, and we were training high up on the mountain. On one side of the lift was our course and on the other was this beautiful powder field. Suddenly, on the horizon, three figures appeared. They gracefully glided down the powder slope, and it was only when they were much closer that I realized that these were three old men-probably in their 60s. I was already asking myself in those days, 'What should I do with my life?' When I saw these three old powder masters, it hit me with full force: If I can be doing this when I'm their age, I will have had a successful life."

He pauses. Smiles. "I realized at that very moment, for me, skiing was living. The mountains, the fresh air, the high-speed turns-it was exactly the life I wanted to lead."

Shortly after that first epiphany, Wiegele decided to emigrate to Canada. "I couldn't really see myself becoming a farmer in Austria." In May of 1959, Wiegele got his wish. He landed in Calgary, Alberta, barely 21 years old, but already on a mission. "I could see the Rocky Mountains on the horizon. I couldn't wait to get my skis on and explore my new country."

Oddly enough, Wiegele left Austria-the birthplace of skiing-to pursue a ski career. "In the post-war years, Austria was a very tough place to make a living," he says. "My father and my grandfather had both worked in Canada as young men and so it wasn't such a foreign place to me. Besides, at that time, North America was seen as the promised land. The place where you could make your dreams come true."

In those days, however, the ski industry was still in its infancy in Western Canada. Wiegele was told that if he wanted to make a living as a professional skier, he'd have to move to Quebec. He took a job at Mount Tremblant working for legendary ski-school director Ernie McCulloch.

"After nearly a week of nonstop driving, we arrived in Montreal and started asking for directions to Tremblant. Everyone said the same thing: 'Just keep driving north till you hit the big mountain.' Unfortunately, we were looking for Rocky Mountain-size mountains, and when we finally ran out of gas and asked someone for directions again, we realized that we'd passed it hours ago." Another pause. "I was in tears to discover I'd just taken a job at a molehill."

But he also discovered quickly that the Quebec ski scene was a vibrant one. "The hills might not be very big, but there was a well-established ski culture there. I was very fortunate to have lived that experience."

While he was inspired by the likes of McCulloch, Raymond Lanctot and Real Charette, he was most touched by a comment the area manager threw his way one day. Remembers Wiegele: "We were sitting around at breakfast one morning, and the manager pulled me aside. 'Being a ski instructor is fine,' he told me. 'But if you really want to make an impact, you have to do more than that. You have to build something of real value.'"

That was his second turning point. "I returned West the next year with a new perspective on life. I didn't like the insecurity of being a ski instructor anymore. I needed to build something that was real and permanent."

For the next few years, Wiegele kicked around the West, teaching, competing and appearing in films with skiing stars such as Jim McConkey and Hans Gmoser. "I remember a 10-day trip all three of us did into the Bugaboo Mountains. Must have been 1962 or '63. In those days, Hans was known as a hardcore traditionalist-a climber and ski-tourer who felt you had to pay your dues before you could enjoy your downhill turns. Well, one day McConk and I were standing on top of a peak together, making jokes about Hans' purist approach to skiing. I said to Jim: 'Imagine what Hans would think if just as he was about to reach the summit, we both dropped in on him in a helicopter.' We laughed like crazy but didn't pursue the idea."

Three years later, Hans Gmoser's company, Canadian Mountain Holidays, started ferrying ski clients into the Bugaboo Mountains by helicopter. That was the third turning point. "I realized right then that B.C. was going to provide me with the ski-business opportunity I was looking for. Now I just had to discover the way to make it happen."

The fourth and maybe most important turning point came during the winter of 1965, when Wiegele was working as a ski instructor in Sugar Bowl, Calif. "I was sitting at the bar, minding my own business, when this old Austrian fella sat down next to me. It was Hannes Schroll, a true skiing pioneer who helped develop Sugar Bowl, and he figured me out right away.

"He asked me: 'What do you want to do?' And I said: 'I want to be the best ski instructor around.' He harrumphed: 'You've got to do something more than that if you want to leave your mark on this sport. Now you go back up to Canada. Find yourself a good mountain with deep snow. And develop that.'" Wiegele smiles: "You know what? He was right."

Wiegele did return to Canada. He ran the ski school at newly opened Lake Louise in Banff National Park and launched a highly successful racing program. "He developed a generation of Alberta racers single-handedly," says endurance racer Chris Kent. "Maybe the most enthusiastic group of skiers to ever come out of there, in fact."

But Wiegele was still haunted by the old Austrian's words. "I was already climbing a lot in the Banff area in the summers," he remembers. "So I decided to extend my travels into eastern B.C. I started studying weather patterns and searching out where the biggest snowfalls were found."

Wiegele's first ski tour into the Cariboo Mountains' vast Canoe Glacier occurred in the spring of 1962. By the time he skied out a few days later, he was convinced that the Cariboos could provide him with the place Hannes Schroll had talked about. "I also took the time to fly over the area and check out the terrain. It looked perfect-it was ideal heliskiing terrain."

Based out of the tiny town of Valemount, Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing first opened for business in 1970. Everything he owned went into the new company. Fortunately, he also had a few friends with deep pockets who helped the 32-year-old make ends meet. "Mike has incredible contacts all over the world," says Operations Manager Andy Aufschnaiter. "He inspires real loyalty in people." Still, he had to put a competitive product together. "In those days," says Aufschnaiter with a laugh, "a week of heliskiing including room and board would cost you $975. If you wanted more heli-time, it was $4 for every additional 1,000 feet of vertical. The helicopters were slow and they could only carry a handful of people at a time. But they could bring you into a world of skiing that few people had ever experienced."

"People thought I was crazy," says Wiegele. "But I ine,' he told me. 'But if you really want to make an impact, you have to do more than that. You have to build something of real value.'"

That was his second turning point. "I returned West the next year with a new perspective on life. I didn't like the insecurity of being a ski instructor anymore. I needed to build something that was real and permanent."

For the next few years, Wiegele kicked around the West, teaching, competing and appearing in films with skiing stars such as Jim McConkey and Hans Gmoser. "I remember a 10-day trip all three of us did into the Bugaboo Mountains. Must have been 1962 or '63. In those days, Hans was known as a hardcore traditionalist-a climber and ski-tourer who felt you had to pay your dues before you could enjoy your downhill turns. Well, one day McConk and I were standing on top of a peak together, making jokes about Hans' purist approach to skiing. I said to Jim: 'Imagine what Hans would think if just as he was about to reach the summit, we both dropped in on him in a helicopter.' We laughed like crazy but didn't pursue the idea."

Three years later, Hans Gmoser's company, Canadian Mountain Holidays, started ferrying ski clients into the Bugaboo Mountains by helicopter. That was the third turning point. "I realized right then that B.C. was going to provide me with the ski-business opportunity I was looking for. Now I just had to discover the way to make it happen."

The fourth and maybe most important turning point came during the winter of 1965, when Wiegele was working as a ski instructor in Sugar Bowl, Calif. "I was sitting at the bar, minding my own business, when this old Austrian fella sat down next to me. It was Hannes Schroll, a true skiing pioneer who helped develop Sugar Bowl, and he figured me out right away.

"He asked me: 'What do you want to do?' And I said: 'I want to be the best ski instructor around.' He harrumphed: 'You've got to do something more than that if you want to leave your mark on this sport. Now you go back up to Canada. Find yourself a good mountain with deep snow. And develop that.'" Wiegele smiles: "You know what? He was right."

Wiegele did return to Canada. He ran the ski school at newly opened Lake Louise in Banff National Park and launched a highly successful racing program. "He developed a generation of Alberta racers single-handedly," says endurance racer Chris Kent. "Maybe the most enthusiastic group of skiers to ever come out of there, in fact."

But Wiegele was still haunted by the old Austrian's words. "I was already climbing a lot in the Banff area in the summers," he remembers. "So I decided to extend my travels into eastern B.C. I started studying weather patterns and searching out where the biggest snowfalls were found."

Wiegele's first ski tour into the Cariboo Mountains' vast Canoe Glacier occurred in the spring of 1962. By the time he skied out a few days later, he was convinced that the Cariboos could provide him with the place Hannes Schroll had talked about. "I also took the time to fly over the area and check out the terrain. It looked perfect-it was ideal heliskiing terrain."

Based out of the tiny town of Valemount, Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing first opened for business in 1970. Everything he owned went into the new company. Fortunately, he also had a few friends with deep pockets who helped the 32-year-old make ends meet. "Mike has incredible contacts all over the world," says Operations Manager Andy Aufschnaiter. "He inspires real loyalty in people." Still, he had to put a competitive product together. "In those days," says Aufschnaiter with a laugh, "a week of heliskiing including room and board would cost you $975. If you wanted more heli-time, it was $4 for every additional 1,000 feet of vertical. The helicopters were slow and they could only carry a handful of people at a time. But they could bring you into a world of skiing that few people had ever experienced."

"People thought I was crazy," says Wiegele. "But I instantly knew the Cariboos was the place I'd been looking for all my life." Unfortunately, that first year yielded few paying customers. "That was OK by me," he says with a laugh. "That way, I could take the time to get to know the mountains and they could take the time to get to know me. That's my philosophy: The mountains are living things. I wanted to show them that I meant no harm. That I came to them with respect."Word about Wiegele's new heliskiing haven started to trickle out. And guests started to sign up. But Wiegele still wasn't satisfied. As great as the skiing was around Valemount, he wondered why locals kept talking about Blue River, an hour's drive farther south, where snowflakes, locals said, came down big and straight. He had to go.

Wiegele made the rounds of Blue River asking if there were any skiers living in the region. There was one Norwegian family, people said, who'd built a hut high up in the alpine and were avid ski-tourers. Maybe he should talk to them. "And that's how I met Molly Nelson," Wiegele says. "And as it turns out, that was one of the last big turning points in my life!"

Grandmother Molly was an avid meteorologist. She had been meticulously recording weather patterns around the Blue River region for the past 34 years. And Wiegele was the first person to ever show any interest in her research. They spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening poring over her books. And what Mike saw there had his heart rate racing with excitement. Annual snowfalls of 30 feet or more were commonplace. Storms dropping three or four feet of snow at a time were a regular occurrence. As for the wind patterns, they were far gentler here than farther north.

"Her records were impeccable," he says. "And they confirmed, without a doubt, what I'd been hearing all those years. I decided right then to move my operations south."

Now And Beyond
When it comes to hosting people, Mike Wiegele is the quintessential gentleman. Those who come to ski and ride in Blue River are considered honored guests. Friends, even.

"I don't believe in the industrial approach," he explains. "We are in the people business. That's why we've worked so hard to establish a mountain community. We want our people to be able to build a full life. To start families and put down real roots in the region. As I've often said: We may be in the tourism business, but our hearts and minds are not for sale."

And though he acknowledges that his company is on firm financial footing-it grosses roughly $10 million per winter-he maintains his job is far from over. "I could say: 'What do I care? I've had a good life.' But I feel we have a responsibility to the area and to the people who helped us build this business."

Still, he's been working hard at this for three decades. "I thought about selling the business-thought about it seriously-but I talked it over with my daughter Michelle and her husband, Rob Mix, and they insisted we keep it in the family."

Michelle recently succeeded her dad as president of Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing (her husband is a guide). But Mike and his wife Bonnie aren't ready to step into the shadows. "Our family is totally immersed in the business," he explains. "Both Bonnie and I are in good shape, and still have a lot of energy for work. So we can help Michelle grow into her new role. So far, it's worked out well. I'm excited about the future."

As he should be. For if all things work out as expected, a new lift-served ski area, called Saddle Mountain, will become part of the Wiegele holiday experience-and the Blue River financial landscape-by the end of the decade. "This is a significant accomplishment," says ski-area planner Brent Harley. "This is the first major ski resort to be approved in B.C. since Whistler's Blackcomb Mountain back in 1980."

Not surprisingly, the proposed resort differs from what has come before it. "The vision for Saddle Mountain," Harley says, "is to develop a unique mountain resort retreat that caters to the pursuit of powder skiing in the winter and a backcountry ambience in the summer."

In other words, Saddle Mountain will become the first resort in Canada to be designed exclusively for lift-serviced powder and wilderness skiing. Think high-end golf club. Think big area and low traffic.

The terrain is impressive. Boasting 1,300 acres and a vertical drop of nearly 4,500 feet, Saddle Mountain, at build-out, will feature five high-speed lifts and lodging for nearly 2,500 guests. Several runs have already have been cut, which has a double benefit: It advances the project and provides a bad-weather option to keep guests skiing as much as possible.

"We're approaching the lodging component with a different goal," Harley explains. "In effect, Saddle Mountain will function as a kind of resort club." Club membership will be directly tied to real estate purchased on the mountain, he adds.

"In this way, heliskiers can stay at their own private mountain home, yet participate in programs and activities offered both at Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing and at Saddle Mountain Resort. Club members will be able to bring families, invite their friends or entertain clients more frequently, with Saddle Mountain providing easier, more affordable skiing than previously available in Blue River."

And Mike couldn't be more thrilled. "The Saddle Mountain project is really close to my heart," he says. "This is exactly what the local community needs for long-term growth."

His face breaks into a huge smile. "I want Saddle Mountain to become an international skiing mecca. Not for its size, necessarily, but for the quality of the experience it will provide."

Given Wiegele's track record-and his passion for alpine sports of all kinds-Saddle Mountain may not be as wild a dream as it sounds. "Every step of his career, Mike has made a difference," says Ken Read."He's a man who understands Canada better than most Canadians. More importantly, he's an entrepreneur who appreciates quality and how delivering excellence is a sound business proposition."

But enough talk. Wiegele wants action. After all, the day is still young. And the helicopters are still flying. "There's time for one more run," he says. And the master is off, with the trademark shout his guests know so well-"Let's go skiing!"

Be Like Mike
Wiegele World is located in Blue River, B.C. Skiers usually spend Friday night in Kamloops before taking a courtesy bus to Blue River Saturday morning, about a 2.5-hour drive. Air Canada flies into Kamloops from Calgary and Vancouver. A Wiegele week costs about $5,000 in high season, and includes meals, lodging, rentals, guiding services and transfers from Kamloops. Contact: 800-661-9170; www.wiegele.com.antly knew the Cariboos was the place I'd been looking for all my life." Unfortunately, that first year yielded few paying customers. "That was OK by me," he says with a laugh. "That way, I could take the time to get to know the mountains and they could take the time to get to know me. That's my philosophy: The mountains are living things. I wanted to show them that I meant no harm. That I came to them with respect."Word about Wiegele's new heliskiing haven started to trickle out. And guests started to sign up. But Wiegele still wasn't satisfied. As great as the skiing was around Valemount, he wondered why locals kept talking about Blue River, an hour's drive farther south, where snowflakes, locals said, came down big and straight. He had to go.

Wiegele made the rounds of Blue River asking if there were any skiers living in the region. There was one Norwegian family, people said, who'd built a hut high up in the alpine and were avid ski-tourers. Maybe he should talk to them. "And that's how I met Molly Nelson," Wiegele says. "And as it turns out, that was one of the last big turning points in my life!"

Grandmother Molly was an avid meteorologist. She had been meticulously recording weather patterns around the Blue River region for the past 34 years. And Wiegele was the first person to ever show any interest in her research. They spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening poring over her books. And what Mike saw there had his heart rate racing with excitement. Annual snowfalls of 30 feet or more were commonplace. Storms dropping three or four feet of snow at a time were a regular occurrence. As for the wind patterns, they were far gentler here than farther north.

"Her records were impeccable," he says. "And they confirmed, without a doubt, what I'd been hearing all those years. I decided right then to move my operations south."

Now And Beyond
When it comes to hosting people, Mike Wiegele is the quintessential gentleman. Those who come to ski and ride in Blue River are considered honored guests. Friends, even.

"I don't believe in the industrial approach," he explains. "We are in the people business. That's why we've worked so hard to establish a mountain community. We want our people to be able to build a full life. To start families and put down real roots in the region. As I've often said: We may be in the tourism business, but our hearts and minds are not for sale."

And though he acknowledges that his company is on firm financial footing-it grosses roughly $10 million per winter-he maintains his job is far from over. "I could say: 'What do I care? I've had a good life.' But I feel we have a responsibility to the area and to the people who helped us build this business."

Still, he's been working hard at this for three decades. "I thought about selling the business-thought about it seriously-but I talked it over with my daughter Michelle and her husband, Rob Mix, and they insisted we keep it in the family."

Michelle recently succeeded her dad as president of Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing (her husband is a guide). But Mike and his wife Bonnie aren't ready to step into the shadows. "Our family is totally immersed in the business," he explains. "Both Bonnie and I are in good shape, and still have a lot of energy for work. So we can help Michelle grow into her new role. So far, it's worked out well. I'm excited about the future."

As he should be. For if all things work out as expected, a new lift-served ski area, called Saddle Mountain, will become part of the Wiegele holiday experience-and the Blue River financial landscape-by the end of the decade. "This is a significant accomplishment," says ski-area planner Brent Harley. "This is the first major ski resort to be approved in B.C. since Whistler's Blackcomb Mountain back in 1980."

Not surprisingly, the proposed resort differs from what has come before it. "The vision for Saddle Mountain," Harley says, "is to develop a unique mountain resort retreat that caters to the pursuit of powder skiing in the winter and a backcountry ambience in the summer."

In other words, Saddle Mountain will become the first resort in Canada to be designed exclusively for lift-serviced powder and wilderness skiing. Think high-end golf club. Think big area and low traffic.

The terrain is impressive. Boasting 1,300 acres and a vertical drop of nearly 4,500 feet, Saddle Mountain, at build-out, will feature five high-speed lifts and lodging for nearly 2,500 guests. Several runs have already have been cut, which has a double benefit: It advances the project and provides a bad-weather option to keep guests skiing as much as possible.

"We're approaching the lodging component with a different goal," Harley explains. "In effect, Saddle Mountain will function as a kind of resort club." Club membership will be directly tied to real estate purchased on the mountain, he adds.

"In this way, heliskiers can stay at their own private mountain home, yet participate in programs and activities offered both at Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing and at Saddle Mountain Resort. Club members will be able to bring families, invite their friends or entertain clients more frequently, with Saddle Mountain providing easier, more affordable skiing than previously available in Blue River."

And Mike couldn't be more thrilled. "The Saddle Mountain project is really close to my heart," he says. "This is exactly what the local community needs for long-term growth."

His face breaks into a huge smile. "I want Saddle Mountain to become an international skiing mecca. Not for its size, necessarily, but for the quality of the experience it will provide."

Given Wiegele's track record-and his passion for alpine sports of all kinds-Saddle Mountain may not be as wild a dream as it sounds. "Every step of his career, Mike has made a difference," says Ken Read."He's a man who understands Canada better than most Canadians. More importantly, he's an entrepreneur who appreciates quality and how delivering excellence is a sound business proposition."

But enough talk. Wiegele wants action. After all, the day is still young. And the helicopters are still flying. "There's time for one more run," he says. And the master is off, with the trademark shout his guests know so well-"Let's go skiing!"

Be Like Mike
Wiegele World is located in Blue River, B.C. Skiers usually spend Friday night in Kamloops before taking a courtesy bus to Blue River Saturday morning, about a 2.5-hour drive. Air Canada flies into Kamloops from Calgary and Vancouver. A Wiegele week costs about $5,000 in high season, and includes meals, lodging, rentals, guiding services and transfers from Kamloops. Contact: 800-661-9170; www.wiegele.com.ountain resort retreat that caters to the pursuit of powder skiing in the winter and a backcountry ambience in the summer."

In other words, Saddle Mountain will become the first resort in Canada to be designed exclusively for lift-serviced powder and wilderness skiing. Think high-end golf club. Think big area and low traffic.

The terrain is impressive. Boasting 1,300 acres and a vertical drop of nearly 4,500 feet, Saddle Mountain, at build-out, will feature five high-speed lifts and lodging for nearly 2,500 guests. Several runs have already have been cut, which has a double benefit: It advances the project and provides a bad-weather option to keep guests skiing as much as possible.

"We're approaching the lodging component with a different goal," Harley explains. "In effect, Saddle Mountain will function as a kind of resort club." Club membership will be directly tied to real estate purchased on the mountain, he adds.

"In this way, heliskiers can stay at their own private mountain home, yet participate in programs and activities offered both at Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing and at Saddle Mountain Resort. Club members will be able to bring families, invite their friends or entertain clients more frequently, with Saddle Mountain providing easier, more affordable skiing than previously available in Blue River."

And Mike couldn't be more thrilled. "The Saddle Mountain project is really close to my heart," he says. "This is exactly what the local community needs for long-term growth."

His face breaks into a huge smile. "I want Saddle Mountain to become an international skiing mecca. Not for its size, necessarily, but for the quality of the experience it will provide."

Given Wiegele's track record-and his passion for alpine sports of all kinds-Saddle Mountain may not be as wild a dream as it sounds. "Every step of his career, Mike has made a difference," says Ken Read."He's a man who understands Canada better than most Canadians. More importantly, he's an entrepreneur who appreciates quality and how delivering excellence is a sound business proposition."

But enough talk. Wiegele wants action. After all, the day is still young. And the helicopters are still flying. "There's time for one more run," he says. And the master is off, with the trademark shout his guests know so well-"Let's go skiing!"

Be Like Mike
Wiegele World is located in Blue River, B.C. Skiers usually spend Friday night in Kamloops before taking a courtesy bus to Blue River Saturday morning, about a 2.5-hour drive. Air Canada flies into Kamloops from Calgary and Vancouver. A Wiegele week costs about $5,000 in high season, and includes meals, lodging, rentals, guiding services and transfers from Kamloops. Contact: 800-661-9170; www.wiegele.com.

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