Heli Skiing…Falling…And Getting Up Again

heli ski group selkirk tangiers

Our heli-assistend backcountry touring group with Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing. If they were fed up with me, they never let it show.

brave ski mom logoI wish I could say my first day heli skiing was an unmitigated success.

But that would be a lie.

It was a nearly spontaneous adventure. While I knew that I was going be skiing Revelstoke Mountain Resort in British Columbia, it wasn’t until the day before I left for Canada that I knew I’d be heli skiing.

And to use an overused word in this context, I was stoked.

I was also woefully unprepared.

The Best of People

selkirk tangiers heli skiing

Awaiting the heli. I’m stoked. I’m well fed. I’m feeling great!

Now, before I get too far along in this tale, it’s important to note that nothing, but NOTHING was the fault of Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing. From general manager Eriks Suchovs to every member of his staff, from guides to retail clerks, the people at Selkirk Tangiers are good people, even great people, with genuine smiles and boundless enthusiasm.

From the moment I walked into their base camp at the comfortable Coast Hillcrest Hotel, they were friendly, enthusiastic and patient. The staff walked me through the paperwork and got me geared up.

During our safety training, the two guides Pierre and Larry were patient, articulate and serious. They got the basics of transceiver (beacon) use into my head and taught me rudimentary, but critical, avalanche skills.

On the mountain, Larry saved my day, helping me get up out of the snow and down the mountain, when my energy was spent. A new father, with endless patience, he’ll be a remarkable ski dad.

I’ve had friends who ski with Selkirk Tangiers, and return year after year. And I have nothing but good things to say about this operation. Someday, I hope to return, too, when I’m better prepared.

This is why you want to heli ski. The beautiful Selkirk Mountains.

This is why you want to heli ski. The beautiful Selkirk Mountains.

The Worst of Preparation

Reflecting back upon my day of heli-assisted backcountry touring with Selkirk Tangiers, it was a day that was alternatively the best and worst ski day of my life.

It was sublime. And humbling. It was day upon which my spirits soared, and my pride took a massive fall.

helicopter views selkirk tangiers

Another lesson learned? Next time, grab a window seat. Looking over helicopter pilot Len’s shoulder as we fly into the Selkirk Mountains.

In many ways it was a day of overload. I began the day on equipment I’d never used before, after a basic introduction to avalanche safety. I was with a group of three very experienced men, all experts in the backcountry. And while each was a perfect, gracious (and patient) gentleman, I was clearly the weak link in our group.

My first mistake was purely an oversight born of my inexperience. After the rush of jumping out of the helicopter and lying in the snow while it took off again, I forgot to switch my boots from “walk” to “ski” mode.

The result of this simple mistake, in soft, flexible AT boots, was disastrous.

In the open powder, my turns were controlled, if a bit loose. But when we entered the trees, my tips dug in and like the little teapot, I repeatedly tipped over.

pierre gagnon guiding in selkirk mountains

Our guide, Pierre, as we get started.

At the end of this first run, I exited the glade rattled, uncertain and embarrassed. I was completely confused. My first turns in open powder had been solid, if not pretty, so what was the trouble? Why were my tips digging in and tripping me up?

Thankfully Larry figured it out. When he asked me if I’d flipped the switch on my boots, he apologized for not reminding me. But truly, this was no one’s fault but my own. I was just thankful he’d pinned the problem.

Larry in the helicopter at the end of the day. Thanks a ton, Larry.

Larry in the helicopter at the end of the day. Thanks a ton, Larry. I owe you a beer!

Finding the Groove

Flipping that switch made all the difference for the next two runs.

After some food and water, we began to climb through a tall, serenely quiet forest, where we heard nothing but bird chatter and the swish of our skinned skis on the snow. The repetitive motion, the beautiful scenery and the step, glide of climbing was calming.

uphill skinning selkirk mountains

The “easy” part of the day!

With every step and every breath, I felt restored as the winter mantra set in. I knew I could do this. I knew that the combination of food, endorphins and the peaceful groove would carry me through.

And it did.

To a point.

tree ski selkirk mountains

At the beginning of round two after skinning uphill. What a difference flipping one switch can make!

The next two runs approached perfection. I skied through a wide glade with sweet turns and a smile on my face. I still postholed hopelessly when putting on the skins, but at least I’d hung with the boys on our second shot through the glades.

Then, as we prepared to hike again, Pierre got a call from the helicopter pilot. We had an offer for a “bump up,” meaning a flight to the top, rather than a hike.  Suddenly, our pace quickened and mentally the stakes rose.

Long story short, the next run was spectacular. The heli took us higher than we would have had time to hike on a short northern December day. Dropping into an open face of  powder, I began to feel like I knew what I was doing. The turns were easy, rhythmic and oh, so fun.

powder snow selkirk mountains canada

If it’s powder you seek, the Selkirk Mountains, you desire.

And then I bonked. I’d had nothing to eat or drink since our lunch break hours ago. I’d forgotten to take care of myself.

Ultimately, this was my undoing. I ran out of gas. Not the liter per minute variety burned by the helicopter, but  the carbs and protein variety.

I should’ve known better.

I do now.

powder skiing with selkirk tangiers bc canada

Big fun. Pre-bonk.

Learn From My Mistakes

Play to Your Strengths. If you don’t have much backcountry experience, stick to good, old-fashioned heli skiing on the fattest skis you can find. If backcountry touring is more appealing, make sure you have plenty of miles under those skins before boarding the helicopter.

Get Educated. Take an avalanche course before you come. While the guides can offer you basic training, it can be overwhelming and just adds another layer of concern and concentration to the day. You want to own these skills before you come, so you can focus on skiing.

Know Your Gear. Don’t use totally new everything on an intense heli skiing day. If you’re touring, bring your own boots, skis, poles and skins. If you’re just skiing, bring your own boots, but use the company’s skis. Why? If you lose one, you won’t feel the need to spend all day searching. The helicopter often has an extra pair on board.

Know Your Group. While you can buy an open seat on a helicopter, it’s more fun to go with friends, especially friends who have your back. Had I been with a partner, he or she might have reminded me to eat and drink. Plus, if you’re in a group with similar skills, who desire a similar pace, you can share your goals for the day with the guides and they’ll make sure you meet them.

Be In Shape. I was not prepared for how physically demanding simply getting back into the helicopter would be. Crawling through deep snow, while dragging my skis and poles, taxed me. It was especially draining after the falls I took. Getting back up is difficult.

Eat Like A Squirrel. Recounting my day to two friends, one male and one female, they both had the same response. “When you’re out there, you have to eat continuously…like a squirrel.” Now I know. I will have food in easily accessible pockets. I will not leave all my food in the bottom of my pack. Squirrel, I will be.

Do It Now. Warren Miller famously said, “if you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.” He was referring to heli skiing, and he’s right.

Don’t wait. Go. Do it.

You know I will.

Enjoy!

heli skiing end of day selkirk tangiers

What can I say? All’s well, that end’s well.

Many thanks to Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing and Destination BC for making my visit possible. For more information on skiing in British Columbia, visit SkiItToBelieveIt.com.

© 2014 – 2013, Kristen Lummis. All rights reserved. Any use or publication of content, including photos, requires express permission.

About Kristen Lummis

I am the owner, writer and head ski tech at www.braveskimom.com. The mom of two boys in a busy outdoor family, I write about skiing all year round, tossing in some biking, hiking, parenting and even a bit of reflection during the off-season. While my recreational passion is for all things snow, my real passion is for my family.
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29 Responses to Heli Skiing…Falling…And Getting Up Again

  1. Vhurst says:

    Kristen,
    Your blog is amazing. I enjoy each and every release. Your honesty and integrity speak loudly in each writing. Thank you for being so forthright, about the good and the bad. For those of us who hope to heli, one of these days, this is an honest perspecitve that will help the rest of us be better prepared for the big day.

    PS-Congrats on the spontaneity you showed. 24 hours notice- Awesome.

    • braveskimom says:

      Thank you! I hope someone can learn from my mistakes! I also hope I do. Sometimes I wonder about myself.

      And to clarify, I learned I would be heli skiing 24 hours before I boarded my flight. Once I arrived in BC, I visited Silver Star Resort first for two days. Not that I could complete an avy course or get in better shape in those two days, but mentally, I had 48 hours to think about it. But it was never in question that I would say “no”!

      I hope you get out there someday and I hope this does help! Avy classes for all!

      Cheers.

  2. I am so in awe of you! You really are the BRAVE ski mom! I’m a little confused though that you had time to “bonk” while doing all this. :-) Obviously, “bonking” or “bonked” has a totally different connotation for us Aussies (and the Brits). lol

    But well done Kristen!

  3. everyfrog says:

    This is the second article of yours I’ve read in the past two days and I’d just like to say I LOVE IT. I can completely relate to it on many levels – liking what kids like about skiing to this backcountry article – it pretty much summed up this Sunday for me, including feeling like a weak link, running out of gas, teapot tip overs and being stoked all at the same time in the backcountry (but no heli lifts!).

    I’ve only been skiing since 2007, and even that it’s on average about 8-10x a season, but this is going to be the year of IMPROVEMENT! I’m going to keep looking to your blog for inspiration this season. Happy skiing!

    • braveskimom says:

      Wow! Thank you so much for such kind words! I love skiing, my family and writing about skiing with my family and it makes me so happy when others can relate to what we’re experiencing.

      Good luck on your season of improvement! And keep it up in the backcountry! Yeah!

  4. david knott says:

    Thanks for all the great tips and pitfalls to watch out for. I have yet to do heli-skiing or the like, but, thanks to you, I’ll be better prepared when I do!

  5. Richie Silver says:

    Great post as always—’the real story for heli-beginners’
    I had a similar experience-I know we’ll both do better on the snowcat in a few weeks
    Can’t wait

  6. Alyssa says:

    Sweet post! Yet to be, but when I do I will take all your tips with me!

  7. Kristen, we so loved having you visit Revelstoke. You did such a great job getting out there with ‘the boys’, they loved you. Thanks for the great piece and we look forward to having you visit – and heli ski – with us again!
    Cheers
    Ashley

    • braveskimom says:

      Ashley,

      You are so kind! And, I so enjoyed skiing with Selkirk Tangiers and at Revelstoke Mountain Resort! I’m telling everyone I see, that they have to go! And, next time, I’ll be eating like a squirrel and much more mentally prepared. Thanks again for your hospitality!

      Cheers!

  8. Peggy Link says:

    If Spencer knew what you just did, he would not only be amazed that a friend of mine did that, he would also be insanely jealous!! Great job!

  9. Since taking a ski mountaineering class in 2010, I’ve had both good and not so great backcountry experiences. Backcountry skiing is leaps and bounds different from any resort or sidecountry skiing. It takes so much more exertion and skill. And yes, I think it takes a few humbling tours to learn the biggest lessons. I can tell you, I’ve had a couple of instances where I was wallowing in the snow, yelling bad words. It happens to all of us. I’m jealous of your heli-skiing trip! That’s something I hope to do someday….. Thanks for sharing your story!

  10. Parker says:

    Just came across your blog surfing the web, and I find it very inspiring.
    I’ve been meaning to chronicle my snowboarding adventures for years. I think finding your blog might actually be the right push to get me started.
    Thank you!

  11. Keith Bare says:

    When I heli skied, the landing of the helicopter and the ledges we landed on scarier than the skiing!!

  12. Kim T. says:

    Oh no, forgetting to change boots from walk to ski mode is the WORST! Glad you had an amazing and beautiful spontaneous trip!

  13. kellene mortensen says:

    You are the coolest!! And craziest!! You are certainly brave! Glad you are safe and sound from your adventure! I look forward to seeing you in a more docile environment…spin class!
    Take care!
    Kellene

    • braveskimom says:

      Ah, Kellene! You are so kind! Of course, as you know, I am a total wimp on a mountain bike! That’s where you’re the bravest, coolest and craziest!

      Yes, I too, hope to see you soon! At spin class, where I can’t fall over!

      Thanks!

  14. Pingback: British Columbia's Family Paradise: Silver Star Mountain Resort | The Brave Ski Mom

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