If you ever get the chance to do a last minute heli ski trip and you know the conditions will be epic, do it.
Wednesday morning my buddy JJ got the heads up about two spots opening up on a Friday & Saturday trip at North Cascade Heli (out of Mazama, Washington) that his buddies were on. Wednesday afternoon we got confirmation that the spots were ours if we wanted them. Wednesday night I packed not having checked with work yet. Thursday I hauled my ski gear to work hoping things would fall into place; they did.
After a five hour drive east and north in the light of a full moon, dodging deers, we were poking around the Rainbow Lodge at Wilson Ranch trying to see if this was indeed where we were supposed to be staying; it was way too nice. Having forgotten to buy beer we were lucky to stumble across our sleeping lodgemate’s stash chilling in the garage.
Friday we were up bright and early to hit the “heli barn” for a 7:30 safety orientation (avalanche safety briefing, beacon test outside, heli orientation). Around 8:30 the group we were joining rolled in and it wasn’t long before NCH’s pilot, Seamus, had fired up the A-Star and we were flying into the North Cascades to hit the fresh dry snow. The snow was epic but the clouds were hanging loud which I’m sure made picking which slopes we were a little more challenging for our guide and pilot.
After a solid morning our load of four ended up taking a “sightseeing” heli trip back to the barn for lunch (normally you eat on the mountain) so the heli could gas up. Flying in helicopters never gets old. The afternoon was more awesomeness. In the late afternoon the other two groups called it quits and we were the only group still out which enabled our pilot to even get some turns in:
When it was all said and done we logged 12 drops.
At dinner that night at the Chinook lodge, where part of the larger group was staying, I sat across from someone who cursed, “Oh, you’re my seat taker! I hate you.” And then proceeded to describe in graphic detail the lengths he went to get clearance from his doctors to ski this weekend. Clearance that never came. Sadly for him, lucky for me, it was I who was flying in his vacated heli seat :). Yes, it was awkward moment.
Saturday we awoke to a perfectly clear sky, it was a bluebird powder day! Even better, we were being guided by Ken who took us to seldomly used LZs (landing zones), had us hiking on some sketchy slopes to get the goods, shoveled out a hole in a cornice for us to drop in, directed us on the construction of a proper LZ, and let us rip it as fast as we could.
When it was all said and done we had done 13 bumps and likely could have done a few more. Conditions were epic. On only one slope did we encounter some wind affected snow at the top, and only on one south facing slope did we encounter some really sun affected snow on the lower half of the run.
For dinner on Saturday we ate in Winthrop at Three Eyed Jacks. Which turns into your quintessential small town bar after dark. And like Leavenworth, the locals love their karaoke!
On our way out of the Methow Valley Sunday morning we had breakfast at Antler’s Saloon in Twisp. We contemplated trying to win back our money spent on heli with pull tabs but commonsense prevailed. After Antler’s the drive back through the Methow Valley and along the Columbia River was pretty nice. Definitely a nice part of Washington State, would love to do more out here. North Cascade Mountain Guides looks interesting, the Rolling Huts look to be an awesome place to stay, and I’d love to go on a snowmobiling adventure.
So, if you live in Seattle and love skiing you should get on NCH’s last minute availability list :). Or plan a trip for next year. Turns out there are only six heli operations in the lower 48. We’re very lucky to have such a great outfit in Washington that is only a five hour drive away. And not just is the outfit great, there is tons of terrain! (They have about 70 top LZs.) Something to keep in mind is that if you can put together a group of 12 hard core skiers and riders is that it probably makes sense to do the private heli option as opposed to the package deal.
Thanks to the crew at NCH and the Amazon crew for a great trip! The fun meter was pegged the whole trip: