If you take a heli ski trip today, you are treated to a posh experience with beautiful lodges, gourmet cuisine, and pampering that is consistent with the high price of the trip today. But that was not always the case back in the days when I went heli skiing. Although the guiding was always first rate, the experience was a bit on the spartan side. I had several one day experiences with Wasatch Powder Birds in Snowbird,Utah as well as a day at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. But perhaps the best experience I had was when I went with Canadian Mountain Holidays for a week in Golden, British Columbia. I went with a group of rowdies from my home area in Pennsylvania and as we made our way to Calgary, we were transported the next day to Golden by bus. Golden is the home to several heli operations as well as cat skiing operations. Once we were there, we were transferred by helicopter to the Bobbie Burns Range in central BC. The location was 650 square miles from anything and once you are there, you are there.
Along with our group was an accomplished group from Vail, Colorado that included two ex- US Ski Team guys, Max Marolt and Dave Gorsuch. Marolt was a strong skier whose brother Bill was an ex- US Ski Team coach. Gorsuch owned arguably the most elegant ski shop in Vail and was an extremely accomplished skier. The rest of their group included a bunch of Euros who all could ski very well and were a lot of fun. The other group was an obnoxiuous pile of New Yorkers who were great skiers in the bar but soon revealed their weak conditioning and skill as the week went on only to be royally abused by our Austrian friend, Rolf Sigmund who was in our contingent.
CMH as well as the other operators take safety very seriously as they trained us on the proper use of the SKADIS which are trancievers that are used to transmit or receive a signal in the event of an avalanche. We all had to find buried SKADIS before we could go out on the first day. The helicopter flies all day and as it makes its way to each group who are guided by certified AMGA Swiss guides, the key is to be ready when it arrives at the bottom of your run. If there is a straggler, the copter passes you by to the next group, much to the chargin of the other members of the group who are trying to maximize valuable vertical feet of skiing. The modus operandi is don’t be the straggler if you want any friends on the heli trip. Several funny things happened up there. Our young guide took a wrong turn and brought us to a cliff area by mistake. The only way down was to either traverse a long way around or do what I did. I grabbed a low hanging tree branch and rode it down over the cliff until it cracked. At which point I tumbled all the way down the ravine until I reached the bottom. My young guide was apologizing profusely and was amazed at my impatience with my branch ride. I explained to him that I was a mill hunkie from Pittsburgh and didn’t know any better which was lost on him but the rest of my group found it highly amusing.
Our accomodations at the time contrasted boldly with what is available today. We had a sleeping trailer, a dining trailer, a helicopter pad and a log sauna. That was it. Also, today you have the advantage of the modern equipment which make skiing powder effortless but back in the day, you had to ski with whatever you had. In my case it was a pair of Atomic GS skis that worked great on high speed groomed runs but dove like a submarine in deep powder. You had to be careful of your fore and aft balance and I had my share of egg beaters on that trip. You have to ski a lot of wind blown crap until you get to the good stuff that you see in the magazines but all in all it is worth the effort.
At the end of the day, the sauna was a welcome venue for a lot of folks considering the physical activity. I am not a sauna, massage or steam room guy but one day I decided to see what all the hoopala was all about. As I donned one of my famous wool hats that looked like an upside down flower pot, my boxer shorts, a towel and my Bean boots, I clomped over to the popular log house. When I entered, I was aghast to find the Vail group in there totally naked and enjoying the sauna. I tried to excuse myself but they all laughed and said to come on in. As they explained the European traditions of the sauna, my eyes bore holes in the floor boards as I started to perspire heavily in my Bean boots. I tried to be as Nordic as I could following in the footsteps of those who over- ran us poor slobs in Ireland, but my roots came to the forefront as I excused myself and ran back out into the snow after remarking,” Gee- it sure is hot in here.” They all laughed again and said,” See you at dinner Pat.”
The really cool thing is riding shot gun in the heli. In my day, the pilots were all ex Vietnam guys and had a bit of cowboy in them although they had strict protocol dictated by CMH. The one pilot told me that he had a group of USAirways pilots egging him on and he showed me two vertical rock spires in the distance. He said he turned the Bell Jet Ranger on its side and flew between the spires sideways. The USAiways pilots were silent from that moment on. If you get a chance, check out the CMH website- http://www.canadianmountainholidays.com If nothing else, it is a cool website to visit. It will give you the flavor of probably the pentultimate experience in skiing today. Thanks for reading.