Heli On Earth

Bird-Powered Snowboarding: Epic, But Not Out Of Reach

By Jennifer Sherowski

What’s your dream vacation? Is it the Bahamas? Europe? Nepal? What? Well, I’ve got news for you. You’re a snowboarder, and if a heli trip to Alaska or B.C. ain’t on that list, then you’re blowing it. “Just smelling that jet fuel makes me smile!” says expert heli-rider Shin Campos, and for good reason. Picture this: Your heart is pounding as the pilot sets down the machine. The door flies open. Everything’s loud and hectic. Gale-force winds from the blades bowl you over. You strap in as fast as you can-and point it. All of a sudden, everything’s quiet-no sound but your hot breath against your jacket collar and the distant battle-ax chop chop chop of the helicopter blades as they dice up the mountain air somewhere far away. Powder for miles, and it’s all yours.

Helicopters are truly badass machines-flying in one is as amazing as riding the powder it gets you to. The way it moves through the air is entirely different from any motion you’re used to-it pulls unexpectedly backward and up off the heli pad, then charges forward through an unseen war field of thermals and polar gusts. The mountain-scape spreads out below you like an illustrated topographical map. “It’s a really cool way to see the terrain,” says Lukas Huffman. “You can understand where all the cliffs are, where the valleys go-the ground make sense from up in a heli.”

And being out there in the wilderness like that with arresting views out every window, it’s one of the most intense feelings you’ll ever encounter. Like DCP says, “The first time you see a sunset from up in the mountains like that is, on its own, an experience.”

Keep in mind that heli-boarding doesn’t necessarily mean getting dropped off on a pencil-wide ridge and having to straight-line chutes. You’re paying top dollar, and the services are there to cater to you and your specific ability. Yeah, we know it’s expensive. We know it’s kinda scary. But since when has “epic” meant “easy”?

Loot: How They Charge For Heli Time

There are a variety of different ways heli companies organize the taking of your money, all based on things like hourly or day rates, vertical feet ridden, and all-inclusive packages with food/lodging/et cetera. For example, TLH in British Columbia offers specific packages from two to seven days, which include rooms at the heli-in lodge plus all the gourmet food you can eat. Each package has its own vertical footage, and if you go over, the charge for extra vertical is per thousand feet at the current seasonal rate.

Honestly, shredding by helicopter is expensive-and by expensive, I mean thousands of dollars. However, when you realize how ridiculously expensive fuel is and add up all the amenities and how nice and accommodating the staff usually is, you’ll realize that it’s worth it. It might be a once in a lifetime trip, but yeah, it’s definitely worth it.

Risky Business

Operating within the vicinity of a giant metal beast wielding huge, sharp blades spinning at top velocity is not exactly the safest environment. So even though rules do sorta suck, in this case, they’ll save your life and those of the people around you.

Soft snow makes the helicopter’s rotor blades sit much lower than on a normal heli-pad-watch your head!

Make sure the guide or pilot always knows where you are during pick up and drop off, and always wait for a hand signal from the pilot to open the door.

Always keep your eyes on the bird. You never know when something unforeseen might happen, like a gust of wind pushing it in your direction.

Be aware of rising ground beside the machine, because you just might walk up into the blades.

If a piece of your gear blows away, let it go until the heli leaves. You might go running off a cornice, cliff, crevasse, or even into the tail rotor.

Never ride up to a heli that is still running. You always want to stop outside the rotor disk in case the wind blowthe blades down on you.

Listen Up, Soldiers!

Good Advice From Heli-Boarding’s Frontline Troops

“Be very careful, trust your guide but also follow your gut feeling, do what you feel confident doing, and always know what is in front of you-like crevasses and cornices. Oh, and enjoy the view.”-DCP

“Definitely save your pennies, because heli-ing is the most expensive way to get out into the mountains. I’m always caught off guard by gigantic heli bills-but it’s also definitely worth it.”-Lukas Huffman

“Don’t take anything for granted. Be prepared, and then over prepare. Take a local avalanche course and learn the tools you use in the backcountry, because if you don’t know how to use your beacon or probe, then they are as good as left at home in your closet.”-Shin Campos

“In the mountains, your guide is god. He watches over you and is the one who chooses what terrain you ride. You have to get along with him no matter what kind of person he is, and the sooner he has confidence in your riding and can trust you to follow directions, the sooner he will take you to the goods.”-Jeremy Jones

“The weather can be a mixed bag-you can have sun, rain, or a full-on blizzard that keeps you from even flying. Go with the flow, even if you have to sit around in the lodge for a day or two. Also, make sure you are in shape for multiple runs down long glaciers, bowls, and trees. You might ride up to twenty runs in a day with the right snow conditions.”-Cliff Umpleby, Operations Manager for TLH Heli-skiing

Basic Beacon Breakdown

By John Buffery

Beacons are potential life-saving devices and should be treated like the tools you find in a hospital-handle it with care and strap it close to your body core. Presently, there are two types of beacons out there: digital and analog. They both transmit the same way but differ in how they receive a frequency. With all beacons, the transmitting sound frequency pulses equally out either end up to about 100 feet. If you could see this sound, it would look like a large butterfly in three dimensions. These 3-D bent concentric waves are called the flux lines.

If someone gets buried, you have to initially determine whether or not it’s safe to enter into the rescue site. Unless there’s another start zone that drains into the same avalanche path, the hazard will usually have passed.

If you’re confident the rescue is good to go, turn your beacon on its highest reception level and ride to your buddy’s last-seen point in the avalanche rubble.

At this point, use the “Induction Search Pattern”: hold your beacon level, and slowly rotate it until you get the loudest and brightest signal toward the direction of the buried victim.

Move quickly, following the curved flux line, and rotate the receiving beacon slightly back and forth, turning the volume down as you get closer.

When you’re close, slow down and bring the beacon onto the surface of the snow. Change the angle of the beacon from parallel to 45 degrees.

If your signal fades, go to where you know it was loudest and slowly sweep the beacon just off the surface in a growing spiral to the loudest point.

Once you’ve found the loudest point, systematically probe (with a probe pole) the exact point you think the buried person is and spiral outward from there.

When you get that strike, leave the probe in, grab your shovel, and dig with all your energy.

Uncover the person’s face and clear the snow out of their mouth. Handle them carefully-they will probably have trauma, shock, and/or hypothermia.

When everyone is recovered, turn all beacons back to transmit and check them.

Your beacon is not a stand-alone tool. Be sure that you have a probe and shovel in your pack as well. Being an effective rescuer is all about practice-getting used to how your beacon reacts will give you the confidence needed to carry out a successful rescue.

Alaska

Alaska Backcountry Adventures

Alaskabackcountry.com

1-888-SWAYBACK

Alaska Heli Skiing

Alaskaheliskiing.com

(907) 767-5745

Alaska Rendezvous Heli Guides

Arlinc.com

1-888-634-0721

Chugach Powder Guides

Chugachpowderguides.com

(907) 783-HELI

H20 Heli Guides

H2oguides.com

1-800-578-HELI

Points North Heli Ski

Alaskaheliski.com

1-877-787-6784

Valdez Heli Camps

Valdezhelicamps.com

(907) 783-3243

Valdez Heli Ski Guides

Valdezheliskiguides.com

(907) 835-4528

Colorado

Helitrax

Helitrax.net

1-866-HELISKI

Idaho

Sun Valley Heli Ski

Sunvalleyheliski.com

1-800-872-3108

Montana

Firsttracks Ski Guides

(406) 585-5314

Nevada

Ruby Mountain Helicopter Skiing

Helicopterskiing.com

(775) 753-6867

Utah

Diamond Peaks Heli

Diamondpeaks.com

(801) 745-4631

Park City Powder Cats And Heli Ski

Pccats.com

(435) 649-6596

Wasatch Powderbird Guides

Powderbird.com

(801) 742-2800

Washington

North Cascade Heli Skiing

Heli-ski.com

(509) 996-3272

Wyoming

High Mountain Helicopter Skiing

Heliskijackson.com

(307) 733-3274

Canada

Alberta

Canadian Mountain Holidays

Cmhinc.com

1-800-661-0252

British Columbia

Bella Coola Heli Sports

Bellacoolahelisports.com

(604) 932-3000

Coast Range Heli Skiing

Coastrangeheliskiing.com

1-800-701-8744

Crescent Spur Heli Skiing

Crescentspurheliski.com

1-800-715-5532

Dreamcatcher Heli Skiing

Dreamcatcherheliskiing.com

(250) 567-6994

Klondike Heli Ski

Atlinheliski.com

1-800-821-4429

Last Frontier Heli Skiing

Lastfrontierheli.com

(250) 558-7980

Micah Heli Guides

Micaheli.com

1-877-837-6191

Northern Escape Heli Skiing

Northernescapeheliskiing.ca

(250) 615-3184

Pantheon Helisports

Pantheonheli.com

1-866-404-4354

Peace Reach Heli Ski

Peacereachheliski.com

1-866-575-4354

Powder Outfitters Ltd.

Powderoutfitters.com

1-866-449-2893

Purcell Helicopter Skiing

Purcellhelicopterskiing.com

1-877-HELISKI

Robson Heli Magic

Robsonhelimagic.com

1-877-454-4700

Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing

Selkirk-tangiers.com

(250) 837-5378

Skeena Heli Skiing

Skeenaheliskiing.com

(250) 877-7811

Snowwater Heli Skiing

Snowwaterheliskiing.com

1-866-722-SNOW

TLH Heli Skiing

Tlhheliskiing.com

1-800-667-4854

Tulsequah Heli Skiing

Tqhheliskiing.com

(867) 634-2224

Whistler Heli Ski

Whistlerheliskiing.com

(604) 932-4105

-SWAYBACK

Alaska Heli Skiing

Alaskaheliskiing.com

(907) 767-5745

Alaska Rendezvous Heli Guides

Arlinc.com

1-888-634-0721

Chugach Powder Guides

Chugachpowderguides.com

(907) 783-HELI

H20 Heli Guides

H2oguides.com

1-800-578-HELI

Points North Heli Ski

Alaskaheliski.com

1-877-787-6784

Valdez Heli Camps

Valdezhelicamps.com

(907) 783-3243

Valdez Heli Ski Guides

Valdezheliskiguides.com

(907) 835-4528

Colorado

Helitrax

Helitrax.net

1-866-HELISKI

Idaho

Sun Valley Heli Ski

Sunvalleyheliski.com

1-800-872-3108

Montana

Firsttracks Ski Guides

(406) 585-5314

Nevada

Ruby Mountain Helicopter Skiing

Helicopterskiing.com

(775) 753-6867

Utah

Diamond Peaks Heli

Diamondpeaks.com

(801) 745-4631

Park City Powder Cats And Heli Ski

Pccats.com

(435) 649-6596

Wasatch Powderbird Guides

Powderbird.com

(801) 742-2800

Washington

North Cascade Heli Skiing

Heli-ski.com

(509) 996-3272

Wyoming

High Mountain Helicopter Skiing

Heliskijackson.com

(307) 733-3274

Canada

Alberta

Canadian Mountain Holidays

Cmhinc.com

1-800-661-0252

British Columbia

Bella Coola Heli Sports

Bellacoolahelisports.com

(604) 932-3000

Coast Range Heli Skiing

Coastrangeheliskiing.com

1-800-701-8744

Crescent Spur Heli Skiing

Crescentspurheliski.com

1-800-715-5532

Dreamcatcher Heli Skiing

Dreamcatcherheliskiing.com

(250) 567-6994

Klondike Heli Ski

Atlinheliski.com

1-800-821-4429

Last Frontier Heli Skiing

Lastfrontierheli.com

(250) 558-7980

Micah Heli Guides

Micaheli.com

1-877-837-6191

Northern Escape Heli Skiing

Northernescapeheliskiing.ca

(250) 615-3184

Pantheon Helisports

Pantheonheli.com

1-866-404-4354

Peace Reach Heli Ski

Peacereachheliski.com

1-866-575-4354

Powder Outfitters Ltd.

Powderoutfitters.com

1-866-449-2893

Purcell Helicopter Skiing

Purcellhelicopterskiing.com

1-877-HELISKI

Robson Heli Magic

Robsonhelimagic.com

1-877-454-4700

Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing

Selkirk-tangiers.com

(250) 837-5378

Skeena Heli Skiing

Skeenaheliskiing.com

(250) 877-7811

Snowwater Heli Skiing

Snowwaterheliskiing.com

1-866-722-SNOW

TLH Heli Skiing

Tlhheliskiing.com

1-800-667-4854

Tulsequah Heli Skiing

Tqhheliskiing.com

(867) 634-2224

Whistler Heli Ski

Whistlerheliskiing.com

(604) 932-4105