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Untracked Line: Skeena Heliskiing, BC

3,200 square miles of northern Canadian heli-ski access out the back door.
posted: 07/29/2009
Skeena Heli action.jpg

Visiting Skeena Heliskiinng is like staying with family — if your family happens to own a multimillion-dollar lodge with 3,200 square miles of northern Canadian heli-ski access out the back door. As the price tag indicates, this place is high-class: Lead guide Jake Frei once led royals in La Grave. A lifelong pauper, I considered stealing the five-thousand-dollar artwork. But after our first dinner around the big family-style table, I felt right at home — even if the other guests paid more in taxes than I make in a year.

Don't let the high society fool you: It's all about the skiing here. Skeena's huge permit area (the second-largest in Canada) and unusual topography (sheltered river valleys and several microclimates) mean the birds fly in almost any weather. We managed 15,000 vertical feet per day last March, filleting untracked snow in above-treeline bowls, fluted basins, and steep shoulders that rolled into wooded corridors. The kind of terrain that makes you vain. But if you scream, "God, I love me! after your 20th knee-deep line, they'll understand. After all, you're family.

WEATHER AND SNOW: Inland from BC's Coast Mountains, the Skeena Mountains get lighter snow and less spackle than maritime chains. January brings frigid temps and, in Frei's words, "almost too much snow. Clear skies in February offer more chances at high-alpine bowls and couloirs. In March the sun raises temps to near-freezing, letting you enjoy freak snowstorms in relative comfort. Late January, when the base depth reaches 10 feet, is the best time to ski.

TERRAIN HIGHLIGHTS: Skeena's runs range from 4,000-foot, 25-degree cruisers like Superbowl to the 40-degree steeps and 15-foot drops on Barber Shop. Clients occasionally help pioneer new descents — if they let you name one, please come up with something better than "(Your name)'s Run.

GUIDES: Frei was one of Europe's most respected guides before relocating to Skeena. All guides have UIAGM certification or 10-plus years experience in the Skeena Mountains — or both.

LODGE: Built in 2003, the Bear Claw Lodge features three knotty-pine-bedecked common areas, stone fireplaces, a Grizzly-bear rug (shot and tanned by the innkeeper's husband), and comfy, down-covered beds. The Kispiox River flows past the guest rooms — crack your window and you can fall asleep listening to it.

CHOW: A live-in chef whips up new dishes daily. Three-course dinners might include a sweet-potato ravioli appetizer, portabello steak, and homemade tiramisu. Lunches — prosciutto sandwiches, soup, and homemade cookies — are eaten in the field.

MUST KNOW: Sure, you're coughing up the price of a used Hyundai to ski, but you still have to pay for your booze. The lodge bar is stocked with a wide variety of wines and liquors, and chances are they'll put a couple rounds on the house. Ask Sue the hostess for one of her signature gin and tonics if you want to get loaded for cheap. They're strong.

MAX ELEVATION: 8,800 feet
MAX VERTICAL DROP: 4,650 feet
AVERAGE DAILY VERTICAL: 21,000 feet
PRICE: From $4,500 for three days
INFO: skeenaheliskiing.com

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