|Helicopter's eye view|
Nobody bothered to warn me in advance, so I'm going to caution you straight off. There's an enormous peril associated with Mike Wiegele helicopter snowboarding, and it has nothing to do with whirring rotors or knife-ridge landing zones or class-three avalanches. The risk is this: The moment you enter the chopper and fly over Wiegele's two-million-acre empire in central British Columbia, you have just ruined, for the rest of your life, any chance of being truly ecstatic at a lift-served resort. Even the sweetest of powder days at your local area will become pale reminders of where you could be, at this moment; where you should be, if only you had the bucks; where other people are, right now. And it will irk you to no end. Such is life after Wiegele's: One morsel of snowboarding's equivalent of Le Cirque and everything else tastes like Denny's.
That's what happened to me last season. It was mid-April, slush-riding time at the hometown hill, when I drove from my house in Montana to a podunk outpost 100 miles from anywhere called Blue River. Cupped between British Columbia's Cariboo and Monashee mountain ranges, Blue River contains one bar, one general store, and one world-class resort. MIKE WIEGELE HELI-SKI VILLAGE, the billboard-size entrance sign proclaims, and inside the gates is a tidy collection of Bavarian-style log buildings and a half-dozen circular landing pads upon which squat a fleet of dragonfly-shaped helicopters. I was assigned, along with two other snowboarders, to a cabin labeled "O.F.'s," which I was told stood for Old Farts. Whatever. The place came with its own pet, a docile and fat Burmese mountain dog named Blaze, whose lush coat was black and amber and white, swirled together like a specialty ice cream.
There were about 40 guests at Wiegele's the week I was there, eight of whom were snowboarders and exactly two of whom were women. (The bar scene, in a word: depressing.) We attended a brief orientation session, ate a meal that single-handedly negated a month's worth of exercise, drank beers in town at the Legion (where each time you swear it costs you a quarter), and crashed hard.
In the morning we met Otto. An Austrian mountaineer in his first season as a Wiegele guide, Otto Klimmer seemed less than thrilled about having a gang of boarders in his group. (There were six of us in the ten-person party.) "Snowboarders," said Otto, feigning distress, "are such schnitzels." Schnitzels, Otto informed us, are goofballs, screw-offs, or slackers. Schnitzels are young and foolish and annoyingly blithe. Schnitzels question authority, seek danger, ride fast. Schnitzels don't tip well. In other words, schnitzels are the antithesis of the typical money-bagged, Bogner-suited, risk-adverse, doctor-lawyer-banker heli-skier. We were heli-boarders. And for the half-dozen of us, extreme schnitzeling promptly became our goal.
Article © Michael Finkel, 2000. Photo © CMH, 2000
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication