By If you know tell us

Two-thirty in the morning-our hands were filled with freshly exchanged Indian currency, and we had made no prior arrangements for a hotel in New Delhi. There we stood, four Canadians and one American: Brian Savard (better known in India as Brain), Derek Heidt, Dave Basterrechea, Adventurescope cinematographer Brad Megregor, and me. The sixth member of our crew, Adam Hostetter, would join us in a few days. “Ahh, let’s just wing it. We’ll deal with it when we get there,” was the advice of a spontaneous crew member. After a twenty-minute car ride, in what could have been mistaken for the Indian 500, we found ourselves in the lobby of some strange Hindu-owned hotel, trying to explain to the bellman that we weren’t transporting dead bodies in the long bags we all had!

Our destination in the Himalayas was a solid two-day drive through hairball head-ons and near-death encounters on a crazy one-lane highway where the basic rule is anything goes. If you think you can fit, go for it, no lanes needed. But in those two days of travel we experienced the real India. There wasn’t a stretch of road uninhabited-simply put, India is the land of extremes. It is the second most populous country in the world, harboring 940-million people, which is roughly one sixth of the world’s population. The cities are overflowing with people from all walks of life and many different religions, some begging to survive one day to the next and others running thriving businesses.

If it’s solitude you’re looking for in India, you will have to live in some of the harshest climates imaginable, ones few are willing to endure. It is unreal how high up in the mountains some of the people choose to live and farm the land-homes built on the tops of mountains that take days to go to and from. In spite of the overabundance of people and the hard lives they lead, they seem happy with everything they are surrounded by, and as a result, you find that you’re almost always greeted with a smile.

The second day of travel, in our 1972 Expedition nine-passenger bus, was amazingly hot. Our driver, Rapoor, spoke little English, so we communicated through a difficult game of charades. Dave had been cooking in the bus long enough. As Rapoor was transfixed on the hectic road ahead, Dave climbed out the window and onto the roof rack of the moving bus. It looked pretty easy to the rest of us so we all proceeded to follow. I was the last one to climb out as Rapoor warned to watch out for low-hanging power lines. We cheered and threw candy to all the children in each village we passed as though we were the lead float in a parade. We were definitely celebrating our arrival to the foothills of the Himalayas.

We reached the small village of Patli Ku, which was only three kilometers from our destination of the Himachael Heli Ski and the lodging of Span Resort. Exhausted from our journey, we drove through town-to find that a landslide had washed out the sole road leading to Himachael. There was only one phone in the whole village of Patli Ku, and it took several tries to be patched through to Yan Neusphil of Himachael Heli Ski.

Kurtis: Yan, how’re things?

Yan: Kurtis, glad to hear from you. I was beginning to wonder how you guys were making out. As for how I’m doing, I would have to say things aren’t so good around here right now.

Kurtis: You’re telling me. We’re stuck behind a huge landslide in Patli Ku. But we made it this far. What’s up there?

Yan: We lost a guide today and everybody around here is pretty shook up right now.

Kurtis: Oh no! What happened?

Yan: It was an avalanche. As you know, it is one of the risks of the heli-ski industry, and these things do happen. It’s just never happened to us before. The worst thing we’ve ever had in seven years is a broken thumb.

Kurtis: That’s devastating, Yan. Have you had a lot of activity? Is the snowpack threatening?

Yan: No. Our avalanc danger is rated fair. It’s an El Niño year, and we’ve had some huge storm cycles pass through recently. There’s about a six- to eight-meter base in the Alpine, which is more snow than we usually get. We will be able to give you more details when you arrive tomorrow.

Kurtis: What are the chances of us crossing the debris tonight and getting a pickup on the other side?

Yan: First, the rainfall is causing landslides, so I don’t think it is wise to cross in the dark. And second, due to the storm we have no rooms, and your week doesn’t officially start until tomorrow.

Kurtis: What are the chances of the slide being cleared tomorrow?

Yan: Well if it isn’t, maybe we’ll send a chopper over. There’s a place called the Ignaar Motel just a few miles before Patli Ku. They should have vacancy. Call me in the morning.

Possibly due to the language barrier our driver stopped at the first motel we came to. It was more like a barn-no heat, and at $1.50 a head, we turned it down. Finally we settled into some little honeymoon bungalows that were heated by a foot-long electric heater. That night we gathered in the common room around the old wood-burning stove. We sat for hours, warming our bodies and soothing our minds with the local rum over the news we had just received. We reminisced with our driver about our near-death fishtails on the sketchy mountain roads, wondering what more the days to come could possibly bring.

After a night of damp blankets and no hot water, we decided to skip the difficult phone procedure. After push-starting the van, we soon reached a point where we had to cross the slide by foot. Between Derek’s boxes of gifts and all our equipment, we had our work cut out for us. Spirits were low-we feared our destination, the Span Resorts, would be disappointing also.

About a half a kilometer up and over a good-size landslide, Sherpas came to the rescue, helping us with our bags. An old burned-out town came into view that looked like an abandoned war village. A van sent from the Span Resorts met us there and picked up our gear. As we passed through the village we came upon a huge wooden gate. Security opened the gate, and in we walked to the Garden of Eden. As we neared the main lodge, servants ran up to us, placed a bindi red beauty dot on forehead between our eyes, an Indian hat on our heads, and a hot-rum cocktail in our hands. As I found myself caught up in a daydream, I heard, “Welcome to Fantasy Island and here is the key to your room, your new IROCs!” But really they said, “Welcome to Span Resorts. Here is the key to your room. Enjoy your complimentary socks!”

We settled in, hung our hats, and gathered that evening for a guide meeting. The Kullu region of the Himalayas had been receiving massive storm cycles for the last two months, bringing an irregular amount of snow to the area. This resulted in many down days, snow, huge fractures immediately after the new snow fell, and a smaller fracture that led to the Class-Four sleeping giant that had taken their coworker and friend two days earlier. It was agreed that only high pressure and time would improve things.

We awoke to a bluebird day of rest and relaxation, which is exactly what we all needed after our journey. They have it all at Himachael-down days don’t really seem like down days while you’re playing Ping Pong, tennis, or rackin’ crack in the billiard room. They even boast the best-stocked bar in India. Whatever part of the world you’re from, they’ve got your drink, and we tried them all. The food was buffet style: a breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu of a mixture of Indian and American cuisine-unbelievable food. After a good meal we relaxed in hammocks overlooking the biggest mountains in the world.

Late that afternoon, the heli came swooping in to the landing pad a few feet from our rooms. The door swung open and Prince Adam, careful not to crease his fresh white Dockers, stepped out of the chopper. The two-month-old Bell 407 Ferrari Helicopter was our Swiss pilot Serge’s new toy. He said he’d never flown a more powerful and maneuverable machine in twenty years of flying. After taking off and landing a few times, I was amazed with the way this chopper flew. If they weren’t a couple-million, I’d own two myself.

Our first run was from 10,500 feet. The powder was light, dry, and unbelievably, it wasn’t cold. Dry air and an average temperature of 10 degrees Celsius left us sweating halfway through our runs and out of breath from the high elevation. As the week goes by you acclimate yourself to the higher altitude by going a bit higher each day, so at the end of the week you can ride slopes as high as 16,000 feet.

The pitch we rode was 30 to 35 degrees within a bowl that had not yet released. Our guides Norm and Anna felt paranoid, and so did we. Once we got a couple of mellow turns under our belts on a safe part of the slope, we became more relaxed. After some pathetic attempts at shooting flat terrain, we moved on to find an area with the odd feature here and there. Adam chucked a huge front flip to scorpion, indicating that the Himalayan powder was good to go for landings of most any kind, but a dark cloud moved in and shut us down quickly. We weren’t surprised when Adam requested that the masseuse visit his room that night-a one-hour massage set him back about seven dollars, and that was considered expensive.

Head guide Nick Cradic joined us for day two. Nick is a New Zealander with a strong passion for these mountains. Nick told us the name Himalaya means “house of snow” in the Nepali language. They are the youngest and highest mountains in the world, with few crests under 16,000 feet; the highest is Mt. Everest at a colossal 29,028 feet.

Nick stated four rules: there would be no hiking-around crap-these mountains are too high and conditions too dangerous; due to the snowpack, the cameramen were never to be on the same slope as the riders; he had no problem with doing some steep stuff-it’s more regulated; and when you start your line, don’t stop until you’re clear of the avalanche path; and don’t fall. If we stuck to these rules we’d all get along just fine.

Day two started with a bang when Brad decided to take a shortcut to the idling helicopter and got tackled by Nick, who feared Brad was about to be decapitated. The shortcut Brad wanted to take was an elevated embankment where the rotating blades would’ve skimmed his Himalayan hat. Nick had seen it happen before and didn’t want to see it again.

Once we were at 13,000 feet, things couldn’t have gone more smoothly. I’m not sure how many quality snowboarders Nick had witnessed, but he couldn’t shut up about how impressive we all rode. He kept saying, “I have nothing to worry about with you guys. You’re out of the danger zone before I know it. I’ve been guiding skiers too long!” As we gained his trust, the terrain he showed us got better and better. He said we gave him inspiration.

We planned some first descents in a untamed region called the Malana. As we flew up the massive valley we fell speechless, combing the terrain with our eyes, seeing endless possibilities. We set down in a valley at 11,000 feet for a group powwow to figure out a game plan. Everyone had different ideas of what they wanted to do. Norm explained that the reason we landed there first was sometimes the elevation messes with your head and you are unable to make decisions. The guides were especially worried about Brian due to his history of acute mountain sickness. He’d had a case of pulmonary edema in Bolivia three years previous. This very serious and potentially deadly illness is caused by too rapid of an ascent to high elevation.

At 16,000 feet we began to feel the effects of the altitude-headaches, major fatigue after just three or four steps, and after a while, confusion set in and arguments began. Who would do what first, at what spot with which camera, and how many frames? I ha-month-old Bell 407 Ferrari Helicopter was our Swiss pilot Serge’s new toy. He said he’d never flown a more powerful and maneuverable machine in twenty years of flying. After taking off and landing a few times, I was amazed with the way this chopper flew. If they weren’t a couple-million, I’d own two myself.

Our first run was from 10,500 feet. The powder was light, dry, and unbelievably, it wasn’t cold. Dry air and an average temperature of 10 degrees Celsius left us sweating halfway through our runs and out of breath from the high elevation. As the week goes by you acclimate yourself to the higher altitude by going a bit higher each day, so at the end of the week you can ride slopes as high as 16,000 feet.

The pitch we rode was 30 to 35 degrees within a bowl that had not yet released. Our guides Norm and Anna felt paranoid, and so did we. Once we got a couple of mellow turns under our belts on a safe part of the slope, we became more relaxed. After some pathetic attempts at shooting flat terrain, we moved on to find an area with the odd feature here and there. Adam chucked a huge front flip to scorpion, indicating that the Himalayan powder was good to go for landings of most any kind, but a dark cloud moved in and shut us down quickly. We weren’t surprised when Adam requested that the masseuse visit his room that night-a one-hour massage set him back about seven dollars, and that was considered expensive.

Head guide Nick Cradic joined us for day two. Nick is a New Zealander with a strong passion for these mountains. Nick told us the name Himalaya means “house of snow” in the Nepali language. They are the youngest and highest mountains in the world, with few crests under 16,000 feet; the highest is Mt. Everest at a colossal 29,028 feet.

Nick stated four rules: there would be no hiking-around crap-these mountains are too high and conditions too dangerous; due to the snowpack, the cameramen were never to be on the same slope as the riders; he had no problem with doing some steep stuff-it’s more regulated; and when you start your line, don’t stop until you’re clear of the avalanche path; and don’t fall. If we stuck to these rules we’d all get along just fine.

Day two started with a bang when Brad decided to take a shortcut to the idling helicopter and got tackled by Nick, who feared Brad was about to be decapitated. The shortcut Brad wanted to take was an elevated embankment where the rotating blades would’ve skimmed his Himalayan hat. Nick had seen it happen before and didn’t want to see it again.

Once we were at 13,000 feet, things couldn’t have gone more smoothly. I’m not sure how many quality snowboarders Nick had witnessed, but he couldn’t shut up about how impressive we all rode. He kept saying, “I have nothing to worry about with you guys. You’re out of the danger zone before I know it. I’ve been guiding skiers too long!” As we gained his trust, the terrain he showed us got better and better. He said we gave him inspiration.

We planned some first descents in a untamed region called the Malana. As we flew up the massive valley we fell speechless, combing the terrain with our eyes, seeing endless possibilities. We set down in a valley at 11,000 feet for a group powwow to figure out a game plan. Everyone had different ideas of what they wanted to do. Norm explained that the reason we landed there first was sometimes the elevation messes with your head and you are unable to make decisions. The guides were especially worried about Brian due to his history of acute mountain sickness. He’d had a case of pulmonary edema in Bolivia three years previous. This very serious and potentially deadly illness is caused by too rapid of an ascent to high elevation.

At 16,000 feet we began to feel the effects of the altitude-headaches, major fatigue after just three or four steps, and after a while, confusion set in and arguments began. Who would do what first, at what spot with which camera, and how many frames? I have to change film, and what about me, because I was going to do that over there, you idiot, and I’m dropping! Did you get that? Dropping where?

Finally, Norm broke in, screaming for us all to shut the hell up, that we probably didn’t realize it, but the altitude was affecting our brains. He suggested we work a little lower down on a run named Camera Wars. We didn’t think there was too much of a problem at the time, but thinking back, we were messed up. It’s easy to understand how things go wrong on Everest; we were only at 16,000 feet. Altitude brings attitude.

We decided to recover by doing a shot where all the riders dropped at once so it would be less confusing. When they appeared on the slope, it really put things into perspective-the heli buzzed by like a mosquito, the riders like tiny ants scrambling down the slope toward an ice drop of about 100 feet. We named that one “Rupee Roundup.”

We were up at the crack of dawn, flying into the Malana again. We knew that this was what we’d all come for, everything we had scoped out the day before was sitting there just waiting for us. That morning was unreal-a virgin slope that the boys defaced to perfection. Every line was amazing, and the finished product was a work of art. Brian Savard threw down the first line on the face. He must have accelerated from zero to 100 in less than 60 feet, so he named his run “Taj Mahalin’ Ass.” The next line went to Dave, who dropped a mellow 30-footer overexposure into an hourglass escape at a ridiculous speed. Derek went after Dave and managed to get two nice airs in between his 100-foot bottomless pow turns. Adam busted off a perfect cliff and then surfed a spine that seemed to go on forever.

The line of the day went to Brian when he picked a flank-type shoulder. It looked pretty basic, three or four steep turns, with a little air in between, a cliff drop off the main fall-line into another slope, and out to the bottom of the basin. Brian dropped in and made two beautifully deep turns on a 45-degree pitch. When he made his toeside to drop the cliff and exit onto the other slope, unfortunately he didn’t anticipate his slough to be quite so powerful and quite so fast. The slough slammed him off the cliff with the force of a freight train and Brain disappeared in a cloud of debris-everyone lost it. I was still looking through my camera, shooting frames, waiting for him to surface from the rushing snow. Miraculously, he came flying out of the cloud, on his feet, racing to the basin floor. We were all screaming and yelling hysterically. Nick jumped up and down and hugged me. I guess he was a little overwhelmed. I wouldn’t have expected any less from Brian, who suitably named the run “Turban Twister.”

Right on schedule, as if we had ordered them, dark clouds arrived bringing in more snow-a lot of snow. We were able to enjoy the absolute supremacy of the Himalayans, and the following few days were spent in the lodge filled with celebration. On our four-day journey home we hit every major tourist trap along the road from Jaipur to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal left us speechless-all that for a woman! A whipped king with a harem of wives, but only one actually held the key to his heart.

Our stay in India seems like a dream now. We spent our last night at an Indian palace that had been converted into a hotel at the turn of the century. From the Himalayas to the flatlands and bustling cities, the diversity of people we’d encountered over our stay was unreal. This country and its people will remain in our minds for life.

For more information on Himachal Helicopter Skiing, contact Yan Neushil at 1-800-938-4754, e-mail: heliski@projectx.com.au or on the web: www.himachal.comI have to change film, and what about me, because I was going to do that over there, you idiot, and I’m dropping! Did you get that? Dropping where?

Finally, Norm broke in, screaming for us all to shut the hell up, that we probably didn’t realize it, but the altitude was affeecting our brains. He suggested we work a little lower down on a run named Camera Wars. We didn’t think there was too much of a problem at the time, but thinking back, we were messed up. It’s easy to understand how things go wrong on Everest; we were only at 16,000 feet. Altitude brings attitude.

We decided to recover by doing a shot where all the riders dropped at once so it would be less confusing. When they appeared on the slope, it really put things into perspective-the heli buzzed by like a mosquito, the riders like tiny ants scrambling down the slope toward an ice drop of about 100 feet. We named that one “Rupee Roundup.”

We were up at the crack of dawn, flying into the Malana again. We knew that this was what we’d all come for, everything we had scoped out the day before was sitting there just waiting for us. That morning was unreal-a virgin slope that the boys defaced to perfection. Every line was amazing, and the finished product was a work of art. Brian Savard threw down the first line on the face. He must have accelerated from zero to 100 in less than 60 feet, so he named his run “Taj Mahalin’ Ass.” The next line went to Dave, who dropped a mellow 30-footer overexposure into an hourglass escape at a ridiculous speed. Derek went after Dave and managed to get two nice airs in between his 100-foot bottomless pow turns. Adam busted off a perfect cliff and then surfed a spine that seemed to go on forever.

The line of the day went to Brian when he picked a flank-type shoulder. It looked pretty basic, three or four steep turns, with a little air in between, a cliff drop off the main fall-line into another slope, and out to the bottom of the basin. Brian dropped in and made two beautifully deep turns on a 45-degree pitch. When he made his toeside to drop the cliff and exit onto the other slope, unfortunately he didn’t anticipate his slough to be quite so powerful and quite so fast. The slough slammed him off the cliff with the force of a freight train and Brain disappeared in a cloud of debris-everyone lost it. I was still looking through my camera, shooting frames, waiting for him to surface from the rushing snow. Miraculously, he came flying out of the cloud, on his feet, racing to the basin floor. We were all screaming and yelling hysterically. Nick jumped up and down and hugged me. I guess he was a little overwhelmed. I wouldn’t have expected any less from Brian, who suitably named the run “Turban Twister.”

Right on schedule, as if we had ordered them, dark clouds arrived bringing in more snow-a lot of snow. We were able to enjoy the absolute supremacy of the Himalayans, and the following few days were spent in the lodge filled with celebration. On our four-day journey home we hit every major tourist trap along the road from Jaipur to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal left us speechless-all that for a woman! A whipped king with a harem of wives, but only one actually held the key to his heart.

Our stay in India seems like a dream now. We spent our last night at an Indian palace that had been converted into a hotel at the turn of the century. From the Himalayas to the flatlands and bustling cities, the diversity of people we’d encountered over our stay was unreal. This country and its people will remain in our minds for life.

For more information on Himachal Helicopter Skiing, contact Yan Neushil at 1-800-938-4754, e-mail: heliski@projectx.com.au or on the web: www.himachal.com