Chasing The White Gold Rush- To The Back of BC and Beyond
PART 1: CES TOUR TRIP REPORT
The primary reason for my visit to British Columbia was to host a Total Heliski Member Tour at our operator, whose renowned tenure at Eagle Pass sits opposite the ski resort of Revelstoke. Arriving from the distinctly barren and over-the-top environment of Las Vegas where the party had been undertaking a large electronics industry conference known as CES, it couldn’t have been more of a contrast to land in the hazy, overcast, snow-covered airport of Kelowna early in the afternoon of Jan 14. Our drive up to the lodge made us excitable as our driver broke the news of the current epic snow conditions to us, all the while as the snowfall got heavier and heavier on the windscreen. I was just hoping that we were going to have enough decent weather to be able to fly the next day.
Upon arrival at the lodge- we were greeted by owners Scott and Kerri and their typically warm Canadian smiling lodge staff and menagerie of dogs. The rest of the evening we settled into our rooms, were well fed, had our powder skis sorted, and with the all-important waiver signing out of the way we, we were briefed for Day 1 of our 3 day tour. And so we retired to slumberland, in anticipation of the excitement to follow– CES only a distant memory now.
The next morning, we rose early- due to the time zone and it being early January, it’s pretty much breakfast at sunrise. Sweet, because you enter the kitchen whilst the heli’s are still covered for the night, they resemble sleeping animals. As for every tour, the first port of call is the essential heli and avalanche safety equipment briefings. Same as the airline ones, no matter where or how many times you’ve heli or catskied, you must concentrate and complete this education in order to earn your seat on the heli. We only had one virgin heliskier in the group and everyone paid careful attention to ensure that he could find his beacon and put his probe together.
And then we were grouped up, and scheduled. This was it. The sun was a little higher in the sky now. Trying to peek through the post-snow fall clouds that lingered. Group 1 set off across the path of the Columbia River towards themountains, and then it was our turn. I wondered how deep the snow was going to be and soon I found out.
Well, the skiing did not disappoint. It was evident upon landing, and attempting to put our skis on, in the thigh deep conditions that the snow was not only deep, but fluffy. We could hardly contain our excitement and for me, a little trepidation as I was Day 3 on my ‘new’ knee which had just been reconstructed. I had the Donjoy brace though, which I’d tested in Zermatt, so I was feeling good.
I think we did a very respectable 8 or so runs this first day, once we ironed out the groups. There was one really fast group because there were some crazy Australian ex ski racers who liked to fly at anything and everything, no matter the consequences, and then the ‘normal’ heliskiers as I call us. Owing to the overcast and mainly snowy weather, we skied a combination of cruisy and steep tree runs, the highlight being through the eery burnt forest. I was also pleasantly surprised, when I congratulated Scott on the glading programme, to be told that this is the natural spacing of the old growth trees in the Monashees and that’s why powder skiing here is so sought after. At the end of Day 1, the Apres in the bar was electrifying, as we all shared the epic stories of our first day heli skiing.
As the days followed, we got varying conditions- at first more powder, which made Day 2 incredibly deep, and then very cold on Day 3 (ie minus 20). The biggest danger, apart from the obvious avalanche etc, was losing skis. This, I managed to do on that cold day, and my feet – boot heaters or no boot heaters- paid the price, since I had to search up to my waist in powder trying to find it. Thankfully my Heliski client Mike saved the day, and we did find it, saving me hours of admin with the insurance company.
During the tour, I was amused at the pace set by ‘The Ossies’ as they were called, who barely gave the guide a chance to stay in front, and consequently we found our faster members of the group looking forward to swapping down towards the back half of each day. They just didn’t let up, and reports were that if you weren’t at the bottom within seconds of their outrageously paced arrivals, you weresighed at. This is despite the time they collectively lost hunting for skis and pulling each other out of tree wells or from cliff jumps gone wrong.
So, it was with a smither of amusement, when, after our tour ended, and I was in Revelstoke, I heard that a free space had been given the day after us to a keen but relatively new skier hotel worker who will be promoting the operator. He told me he got grouped with the Australians, and given the stage that his skiing was at, one could only guess that the Ossies had no choice but to apply the brakes.