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The Heli High Life Part 2: Mike Wiegle Heliskiing

The Heli High Life Part 2: Mike Wiegle Heliskiing

The terrain’s unreal, but that’s not what makes the place. It’s Wiegele himself, who thinks you’re family.
By Susan Reifer
posted: 10/10/2012

At first, the Wiegele experience can be a little disorienting, like snorkeling through pitch-dark water and then coming upon a glittering Atlantis: Fly into Some-Isolated-Place, British Columbia. Climb into a waiting van emblazoned with the red MW logo. Ride for several quiet hours along a dark, narrow “highway” slithering between mountain ranges. Come upon a quiet, snow-caked compound where two dozen red-roofed log buildings glow amber in the falling snow. Santa’s busy workshop? Nah, Mike Wiegele’s campus. 

Set at the confluence of two wild rivers and two rugged mountain ranges in the tiny town of Blue River, the Wiegele heli-ski resort is one of a kind. Its ski terrain covers 1,000 summits and 1,750 square miles. When rocking at full tilt, its squadron of 12 helicopters flies 100 skiers and snowboarders—plus their 20 or more guides—into the Monashees and Cariboos each day. Guests sleep in any of 24 timbered lodges that range from cozy to capacious to veritable private estates. The gourmet kitchen preps some 500 fresh and abundant meals daily while accommodating every imaginable dietary need. There’s also cat-skiing, snowshoeing, indoor climbing, a fully equipped gym with classes, evening talks, live music, a game room and the de rigueur spa.

In the Powder Max dining room, the maître d’ greets us by name and shows us to our tables, where we dine with our guides. Around us I hear French, German, Spanish, Italian, British-inflected English and even Texan. Glasses clink. Courses come. Our guides talk us through the next day’s routine. Everyone is professional yet convivial, warmly personal but not smarmy. 

Then Mike Wiegele himself—fit and irrepressible at 73—comes over to say hello. These days daughter Michelle Wiegele is president of the company, but Mike, who’s been guiding in the region since 1970, remains its animating spirit. 

The next morning, the entire helicopter fleet rises at once over a low hillock—a thrilling sight—and comes chup-chupping into the loading zones. As with all heli-skiing, we feel the buzz of the bird, bank into the wilds, unload somewhere improbably beautiful and high, take safety precautions, cavort through ridiculous amounts of untracked powder, feel like we’ve never had such an experience in our lives and then do it again. 

Unlike other heli operations, Wiegele packages are all-inclusive, without additional fees for extra runs. This means the mind isn’t doing math while the body and soul are skiing—a nice relief. And due to the expanse of terrain and the ability to shuffle groups, low-level powder skiers are accommodated as well as vigorous experts. Finally, Wiegele’s guides let strong skiers run for long stretches at a time when conditions allow. I feel like we are skiing whole mountains—and in fact we are.

  

Tip: To take advantage of Wiegele’s unlimited-vert policy, get in shape—and stay there. Year-round fitness is where ski legs come from.

{ fueling up }

The Wiegele breakfast buffet caters to every taste, with fresh fruit, waffles, cold cuts, cheeses, fresh breads, eggs, mueslis and yogurts. Lunch is hearty soup and artisanal charcuterie, breads and cheeses served on the shore of a frozen alpine lake. And dinner. Oh, dinner. The courses keep coming. Subtly savory soups. Sashimi handpicked by the chef. Tenderly seared beef. And so it goes inside the Powder Max dining room, where Executive Chef Toni Spori feeds up to 130 heli-skiers a day. Spori, from Switzerland, personally crafts every menu, sourcing each ingredient locally whenever possible, such as chicken raised in nearby Armstrong, beef from Alberta and, of course, excellent salmon from a small producer on the B.C. coast. “It’s five-star in the middle of nowhere,” says Shane Bourbonnais, a frequent guest. “The service is incredible. They have all the goodies that come with a big operation, but it still feels very boutique.”

Click here to read Part 1Part 3; Part 4 of "The Heli High Life"

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