Just as we jumped out and the copter had lifted off again, a big cloud bank rolled in on the mountain and shut down the visibility. We watched the helicopter hover above us for about a minute, starting in one direction, then circling around, looking for a peak to gain some perception through the gray clouds. Then it returned and landed next to us. We just sat there waiting, cold, with visibility less that 50 feet in any direction. It was a scary few minutes.
Our guide Lee Usher crawled through the snow around the helicopter and spoke to us. “Let’s just wait a few minutes, we think it’ll blow through.” We shot puzzled glances back and forth, that even through our goggles we could tell we were all a bit sketched by the situation. He had a radio and could talk to the helicopter pilot, and was more familiar with the situation than us.
We were on a Canadian heliboarding trip with the crew from Quiksilver at Tyax lodge, and it was supposed to be a safe, easy trip filled with deep snow and mellow lines. Time for enjoying the beautiful peaks around us, and to be thankful for the opportunity to hang with good friends.
But this was pretty hairy. We were a good 30-minute helicopter ride away from the lodge, and perched on top of a mountain peak. It was cold, windy, and who knows what the weather was really doing. It had been in and out all day.
The fact that we were riding was a good one, but the visibility had been challenging all day. Everyone complained about their goggles and lens tints. No color could help the flat light hitting the totally wide-open bowls of powder we were riding. With little to focus on, the bland snow faded into the clouds, making perception next to impossible.
It was a bit of a contradiction. The best snowboarding of the whole season was hampered by poor visibility. At the end of rides, we’d all laugh about riding with “The Force,” feeling our way down the mountains that we couldn’t really see. Luckily it was deep, fresh powder, so even if you did fall, it didn’t matter.
Finally, about ten minutes later, the clouds broke and the heli lifted back up and flew off to pick up the other group of riders waiting at the bottom of their last ride. We put on our boards and road down the mountain, again gliding by braille, but realizing it was better than bouncing through hardpacked moguls.
The powder was perfect today, and we got in 14 runs and 27,000 vertical. Overall, it turned out to be a good day of heliboarding, especially in the afternoon when the clouds lifted a little and we could see better.
During the day, our guide took us to a series of kickers and small cornices for some fun drops. The crew including Steve Titus, Morgan Hill, Peter Skelton, and Chief all dug the drops and bumps. Quiksilver outerwear designer Natalie Murphy was right there with the boys, showing off her big-mountain skills and dropping anything she could find.
The crew clown was Quik SoCal rep Willy Morris. Morris is a huge guy, with a grin to match it. He rides fast and sweats a bunch, wearing only cotton t-shirts under his jacket, despite explaining in all his shop rep clinics why first-layer clothing is important to sell and use. So much for following your own advice.
Most of the runs began at the top or high on peaks, then dropped a good 3,000 vertical feet, to trees and really fun skate-park style runs, with whoops, drops, rocks, and all kinds of great hits.
After a good day of riding, the evening routine was pretty much the same as the night before: hot tub session, dinner, and partying into the late night.
Overall, it was a great day for everyone, except one. Apparently, Roxy pro rider Jessica Dalpiaz had broken her collar bone three weeks ago, but came on the trip anyway, hoping the soft powder would be manageable. However, she took a tumble today and tweaked the shoulder again, and was out for the rest of the week.
Billy Anderson, former pro and now Volcom team manager, was a late arrival on thhe trip, and was stoked to be here. “This is such a vacation,” he said. “The riding is so fun and mellow, I see why everyone can party as hard as they want and still have fun the next day.” No one would disagree with that.
Tune in to www.transworldsnowboarding.com for daily updates from the Quiksilver Tyax heliboarding trip.