As we reported in October ("Two Strokes and You're Out), snowmobile-assisted skiing in places like British Columbia's Pem-berton Ice Cap, north of Whistler, is hot. But you should think twice before you drag your Uncle Emory's '84 Arctic Cat to the trailhead. Suffer a major mechanical breakdown, and you'll be shelling out $600 or more to have a chopper haul your heap out of the boonies. That's great for pilots: With sledheads infiltrating B.C., Blackcomb Helicopters, based in Whistler, now averages 30 sled retrievals a year (up from two per year a decade ago). "Business peaked about two years ago, and has been steady since, says owner/founder Steve Flynn.
The takeaway? One way or another, you gotta pay to play—meaning you can pay guys like Flynn, or you can make payments on a new machine. "The technology has gotten better, sleds break down less, and the numbers are starting to taper off, says Flynn. Some basic mechanical and backcountry skills don't hurt, either. And while it may be comforting to know your sled is just an airlift away from the shop, that won't do much good unless you pack a GPS ($100—$600) and satellite phone ($750). "Some people have no idea where they are: They'll say 'I'm on a mountain near a lake,' says pilot Paul Copeland. "We won't even leave the base unless we have some idea of their location.