Two weekends ago a group of eleven of us went heli-skiing with RK Heli Ski out of Panorama BC.
Here’s the group on the first morning of heli:
Joe was the first of the group to hit the computer and post his version, Farewell, Panorama:
I can’t wait to do this again real soon.
On how I felt going in…
Going into the trip I was very nervous about the conditions. Panorama has a 50″ base compared to the 100-170″ bases we have in the Pacific North West. Panorama also hadn’t received snow in a while (no major storm since January.) When we got there we spent Thursday skiing at the resort. The morning the conditions were icy but warmed up in the afternoon and it was spring skiing. I started asking about the refund policy skeptical that we’d want to do more than one day of heli skiing on spring slopes.
The first morning I too was impressed with the safety orientation but still skeptical about what would happen in the event of an avalanche. The way it works it that the guide goes first carrying a pack then ten skiers follow one after the other and then the last person brings up the rear also carrying a pack. Everyone is equipped with a transceiver but only the guide and last person (the “pack man”) get probes and shovels. The ten minutes of transceiver practice we got was fine for me as a refresher as I have already taken a multi-day avalanche safety course but most others in our group hadn’t; it’s not a pre-requisite. I think the main hope in the event of an avalanche is that the guide or last person gets on the radio which would summon the helicopter. As it worked out more often than not the person carrying the pack had taken an avalanche course but I’d prefer if the person carrying needed to have taken a course.
I couldn’t have been more wrong! The conditions were great. Turns out RK Heli Ski has access to a lot of terrain so they were able to whisk us fifteen minutes away (by helicopter) to north facing slopes that didn’t suffer from sun exposure. Of course a few times we did have some tough turns on wind affected slopes high up and we did ski some lower southern slopes which had heavier wetter snow but for the most part it was very good.
Since they hadn’t had a dump in a month most of the time we were skiing in boot deep powder. After many deep powder days in the Seattle region I was expecting to be disappointed with the lack of depth but the lack of depth probably translated into faster skiing and less tired legs. I know the Winnipeg folks on the trip would have died with any deeper snow.
For the most part we skied alpine terrain with only a few turns in the trees as we got closer to the pick up point. The best tree skiing was in a clear cut area. This made the lumber trader on our trip laugh as I imagine most of us bemoaned the deforestation we saw as we flew into the region.
Average run length was 850-1000 meters.
On the helicopter…
We used their Bell 212, 1972 helicopter. The reason you can’t bring a backpack is that the inside is tight. It just barely fit everyone. There was definitely no leg room as we all had to intertwine our legs to fit.
The chopper was piloted by Duncan who has been flying heli ski tours for thirty years. We had two helicopter pilots in our group and both were extremely impressed with his abilities. I asked him when he got to go skiing and he said that flying was more fun which was entirely believable. Every time we saw him he was grinning. And when we didn’t see him he was either buzzing us, buzzing the resort or landing the helicopter in very tight spots.
On the group…
We had eleven people. Three boarders, eight skiers. Youngest was 26, oldest was 70-something. We had everything from software programmers, to lumber trader, to doctor, to CFO, to ski store manager. Ski level ranged from the Seattle folks with ~20 ski days so far to someone who had skied only once this season. We had one guide, Graham, who has been with RK for 10 something years. Since you pay by the run there was no rush to get down and we took our time. I enjoyed myself the most skiing first right behind the guide or last as the pack man. Last was nice because you would wait for everyone to get some distance in front then you’d go catch up. It was if you were the only person out there.
I’m sure many are curious about what an adventure like this costs. I ended up paying $2,400 which included a two day lift ticket at Panorama, lodging, 7 heli-runs on the first day and 8 heli-runs on the second day (we had a 5 runs/day package and paid $85/extra a run.)
On random things…
When asked our guide said the best time to go heli skiing is “after it has snowed”. When pressed he said with RK the best time is in January. Their season is as long as Panoramas. They’d go longer because conditions are still good but people’s perception is that they aren’t good.
Our guide said they average 5 no fly days a year because of weather. He said coastal heli skiing operations will have many more no fly days because of weather.
They can run up to 4 groups of 11 at one time with the Bell 212 helicopter. Though not every group is flown into the heli ski region. One group will be and the rest are bus shuttled into a staging area. We got lucky and were flown in and out every time by helicopter.
For lunch we got sandwiches and snacks.
On going again…
Since the cost for day heli-skiing is so much lower than lodge/week long heli skiing let’s just say that this will be an annual or near annual thing.
I went there too this year in March and it was great. Really worth the initial heart attack, considering that we were just sort of dropped off on the thigh deep snow and just told to follow. After a few runs, it was getting good and we knew we will be going back. The sweet tea was so good. I fell a lot, somersaults, face-plants and it was funny.