Heli Boarding Experience

Heli Boarding Experience

I always have difficulty trying to sleep the night before a trip like this, and today was no exception. In the early hours of the morning I slept sporadically as I had restless dreams of pristine powder turns. The adrenalin was pumping long before I reached the Whistler Heli Skiing shop at 8.30am.

I picked up my snowboard for the day, an awesome brand new Burton Malolo powder board – highly recommended! I was handed my avalanche transceiver and introduced to our guides for the day, Atsu and Mike. The guides took us through the avalanche training drills to ensure we were all familiar with how to use the rescue equipment and transceivers, before heading off to the heli-port about 10 minutes down the road by bus. I felt like I was a young boy again riding in this funny old school bus.

At the heli-port we were familiarised with the helicopters we’d be using that day – in this case a Bell 205/212 or "Huey". Think of any Vietnam War movie and you’ll know the type! These machines were awesome! Capable of taking ten passengers plus guides and pilot, they were huge. The nerves started to show as we were carefully instructed to keep low and slow around the helicopter and to try and not get squashed or chopped by the rotors by doing something foolish.

We arrived at the heli-pick-up point a few minutes later and all I can say is that the next 10 minutes were some of the most exciting of my life! We heard the clatter of the rotors before seeing the chopper swing round and land nearby. After a quick re-fuel, we all ducked and scrambled into the heli with wind and snow swirling all around. Taking off, the scenery was incredible, the pilot sweeping over peaks and valleys leaving our stomachs behind a few times. We neared our destination for the day, the Ipsoot zone - a large collection of high alpine peaks and glaciers. Landing was even more of a rush. The chopper touched down on what felt like a tiny table top next to big drop-offs all the way round, and the mountains in the background were as far as the eye could see. We jumped out and then the helicopter took off and left us crouched in total silence. Everyone had the widest smiles I’ve ever seen and we hadn’t even started the run yet!

The moment had finally come and Atsu and Mike prepared for us to start on our first run of the day. It hadn’t snowed in about 4 days and at such high altitude, the snow was quite wind affected on the peaks. However, dropping down over the first ridge the snow became progressively better as we swooped down into the first bowl.

Pointing out some of the dangers such as crevasses and avalanche risk, Atsu carefully negotiated the route down to our first pick-up point. Even though the avalanche danger was high, I felt reassured by the careful guiding and over 30 years of experience between our two guides. The run finished with some superb fast snowboarding in deep, light powder across the top of the glacier. The smiles got even wider!

We did four runs during the day in the Ipsoot area, each untracked and amid stunning scenery. Each run had a small amount of wind-affected snow to negotiate before reaching the beautiful untracked pow! And each time was the superb, exhilarating helicopter ride.

After the day, it was back to Buffalo Bills in Whistler Village for a well-earned beer and a video and photos from the day. Our stories of the day became a little more embellished with each beer. A great end to the day!

Nick Billings – Powderhounds Correspondent