Heli Skiing & Heli Boarding @ Bella Coola - Part 1
Is it about the journey or the destination? Part 1
Given that this year alone, in my quest to test the goods for Total Heliski, I have circumnavigated the world several times, spending over 100 hours inside a metal tube, or in obscure airports doing transfer layovers, I started pondering about the age old question, whether in heli skiing (as in life), Is it the journey or the destination that matters more? So, I start Part 1 of this piece, with the argument for the journey.
In demonstrating this, I introduce the founders of Bella Coola Helisports- Beat Steiner, Christian Begin, and ‘Swede’ Pete Mattsson. You see, an unforeseen, fascinating part of building my Total Heliski business has undoubtedly been meeting the passionate, diverse people who have set up their own heliski operations. I mean, what would lead someone, often from relative urban normality to set up these incredibly complicated logistic businesses in the obscure wilderness as they do? What does the journey entail? I mean surely there’s an easier way to make a buck? Well clearly the answer lies in their shared passion skiing or boarding and desire to please others who do too.
So, back to Beat and Swede, these two guys were a complementary team of filmmakers. Beat reminded me a little of Warren Miller- an original film ski maker from Canada. Christian is an energetic French Canadian acclaimed ski cinematographer. They had been making ski films on all of the evolving formats. They met Swede, who since the early 80’s when Whistler was no more than 2 buildings, had been living in Whistler as a professional ski guide. Swede is infamous and legendary in the industry at the same time for doing all sorts of extreme action in the coastal ranges behind Whistler. He was well known locally for many of the first descents and ascents and his slight eccentricity. There’s more press on Swede if you are interested in googling him.
They had been finding it tougher tougher to secure the locations they needed from other heli operators for the films they wanted to do- you see once a heli operation has made a name for itself- even they admit, that they no longer need to semi-subsidise film crews in order to make ends meet. They came across Bella Coola on a shoot they were doing for Head-Tyrolia, where Beat and Christian were filming, Swede was managing the shoot. They appreciated it’s sheer beauty that although swathed in amazing peaks, Bella had not been allocated a heliski tenure license.
So, the story goes, that they figured that if they could get a license, then they could make their films without hassle. There was so much awesome terrain here, and barely an hours flight from Vancouver. So they obtained the terrain license from the government, which also involved all sorts of negotiations with the local Indian community. They set up camp, kept making films, started taking in groups of heliskiers. After a short while, they realized there was far more money to be made from heli skiing than from films. So they set about securing the Tweedsmuir Lodge and making it a fully fledged heliski operation.
Today, thanks to their decision to focus on heli skiing they now have set up an amazing, professional and world- renowned heliski operation that’s an industry insiders favourite. Bella Coola is world famous for it’s, stunning terrain, easy access and intimate service with only 24 heli skiers. But more on that in Part 2.
And 15 years on, as I sat in a smaller metal tube flying into the Bella Coola Valley through the staggering peaks, I realized that in life, we really do spend so much time on ‘the journey’, as Beat, Christian and Swede have done building Bella, that we really should cherish and embrace it because the journey forms so much of who we are and what we become.