Maybe someday snowmaking technology will advance to the point where every day is a powder day. Until then, there’s interior British Columbia.
And maybe we’ll all have personal jet packs, but for now we’ve got the 11-seat Bell 212 helicopter, like the one that just deposited me and seven other happy skiers atop a knife-edge ridge in the Monashee Mountains. It’s loud, and as it rises off the snow, banking away toward its next pickup, our huddled group braces for its parting shot, an icy blast of face-stinging rotor wash.
Then…silence. The chopper dives toward the valley floor, its roar instantly muffled by the snowy forest. We struggle to our feet in thigh-deep powder, taking time for only quick glances at the astonishing beauty around us. Then we’re all business, sorting skis, clicking into bindings and shouldering packs for another primal sprint through untracked powder amid perfectly spaced spruce and fir.
Just another day at CMH’s Monashee Lodge, where days that should be seared in your memory, each one distinctly mindblowing, tend to run together in a jumble of general amazingness over the course of a week. This happens to be K2 Week at the lodge. The guys who design and test the Seattle-based manufacturer’s skis are here with a fleet of their latest creations, including lots of fat, rockered prototypes. It adds a layer of gear-geek fun to the already deeply hedonistic proceedings. By the end the K2 boys will have everyone, even the skeptical Europeans—even Terry, the stubborn holdout—convinced that rocker really changes the game.
For the most part, heliskiing is what you expect. It’s not cheap—typically about $1,000 a day. At Monashee Lodge, that includes sublime food, luxurious lodging and 100,000 vertical feet of one of CMH’s most challenging lease-holds. And yes, you’re extremely likely to ski untracked powder all week, especially in British Columbia. Alaska’s stable maritime snowpack is good for steep descents, but its weather is less reliable, and tales of entire weeks spent drinking at the lodge are not uncommon.
Safety? Well, you have to accept the fact that helicopter skiing isn’t an inherently safe pursuit. It wouldn’t be so fun if it were. Avalanche fatalities are, of course, extremely rare. But every once in a while a freak winter like last year’s comes along, a hoar-frosty fortnight of high pressure ruins the snowpack, and the guides get a sobering slap in the face. This is why we’re “hiding in the trees” today—because the guides are spooked. That’s fine with me. For all the photos you see of heliskiers spooning tracks in sun-splashed highalpine bowls, it’s way more fun to ski the trees on a stormy day.
Another thing: You don’t have to be a ripping expert, just reasonably fit and reasonably capable in powder. Terry the rocker skeptic—a smiling, diminutive Brit—is barely that. He’s the last one down every run, but our group is typically waiting for the chopper anyway. On the second to last day, we finally convince him to try a super-fat Pontoon, and the results are instantly apparent. He’s soon flowing down the hill more confidently and with less effort. The smile on his face gets even bigger. Just when you think it isn’t possible, heliskiing gets even better.
Wiegeles, B.C. Wiegeles accesses an astounding 1.2 million acres. Unlike most heli ops’ intimate lodges, guests at Wiegeles stay in a centralized campus in Blue River. wiegele.com
TLH, B.C. Situated in the Tyax Mountain Lake resort near Whistler, TLH offers 865,000 acres and unlimited vert, with groups separated by ability. tlhheliskiing.com
Mica Heliskiing, B.C. Unique local weather patterns drop blower Monashee pow onto Mica’s 250,000 acres. And it averages only 1.5 no-fly days per season. micaheli.com
Whistler Heli Skiing, B.C. WH S boasts 432,000 acres of terrain near Whistler Blackcomb. The heli leaves from town in singleday trips, so you won’t pay when the heli’s grounded. whistlerheliskiing.com
Valdez Heli Ski Guides, Alaska The first heli op in Alaska, Valdez accesses unimaginably huge terrain in the Chugach Mountains, with 5,000-foot-vert runs among 1.6 million acres. valdezheliskiguides.com
Points North, Alaska PNH , located just outside Cordova, is the only heli op with access to the southeastern Chugach Mountains— 640,000 acres of it. alaskaheliski.com
Wasatch Powderbirds, Utah Just 45 minutes from Salt Lake City, based at Snowbird and The Canyons resorts, Powderbirds may be the most accessible heli operation in the world. powderbird.com