Whistler: Heli-Skiing Paradise

Where 30,000 Vertical Feet is Just a Day's Work
  |  Gorp.com
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Whistler heli skiing fresh tracks
Fresh tracks in Whistler's pristine backcountry

The helicopter angled over the frosty peak, paused, then descended, placing its skids firmly on the snowy summit. Three soft bells inside the cabin were our pilot's signal to ten skiers and our guide inside that it was safe to evacuate.

Following protocol, we huddled in a tight circle in the snow, only a few feet from the chopper's runner, in a spot marked by our guide's back pack.

Then, as the rotor accelerated, we buried our heads in our arms for protection from a white out of snow. The helicopter lifted upward, banked sharply, and dove into the deep valley below.

At that moment, we were left with a surreal calm. It felt as if we had awakened in a dream land. We were alone, far above the tree line in the quiet alpine of the Canadian Rockies. A steep, inviting, untracked glacial snow field offering perhaps 3,000 vertical feet of skiing awaited us below.

Adding to the fantasy was about a foot of fresh powder, a blue sky, no wind to speak of, and comfortable temperatures at just below freezing.

Feeding our exhilaration was the inherent risk involved with our thrill-seeking. Upon arrival this morning in the Whistler Heli-Skiing office at Whistler Mountain, British Columbia, our guide handed us a transceiver to strap under our parka for the day. It might be a lifesaver in an avalanche. We then spent the first half-hour learning how to locate buried signals in the snow.

Tackling the Mountain
Before the first run, our guide Andrew Wilkins reviewed safety rules for the day: Never ski below the guide, ski five turns apart unless told otherwise, and keep your tracks close together.

On the first steep face, Wilkins had the group wait while he traversed across the slope at an angle. He was testing the stability of the snowpack and hoping to shake any potential slides below him. "Ski cutting is a primary source of information," he explained. "I cross where the tension in the snow would be the greatest. If it is loose, it will release before I let any skiers enter."

Then, one at a time, it was our chance to leave our first serpentine signatures on the untracked snow field. I took a deep breath, clenched my fists around my poles, pushed off, and felt my skis accelerate in the soft, boot-top powder. Then, reaching forward, I punched my poles down the fall line, and lifting from my thighs, pulled my skis out of the snow in tandem, redirecting them downward into a new cushion of powder.

Then a rhythm of turns, and I felt transported into a magical place where mind, body, snow, and mountain all become one. One moment of euphoria passes into another, one sumptuous run into another, all day long.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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