Canada has a long history of helicopter-enabled skiing. Most people have at least heard of the concept of heli-skiing where the aircraft are used to transport people uphill followed by ski descents. Lather-rinse-repeat. The allure of heli-skiing is the lack of crowds, the untracked powder, and the vast amount of terrain available — enough to make even the largest ski resorts feel diminutive. All of that comes at a cost, of course. A week of heli-skiing has a price hurdle that is prohibitive to the vast majority of potential customers. The constant thrum of helicopter rotors does not exactly provide a wilderness experience. The adrenaline and dollar-fueled push by the purveyors to go-go-go and accumulate more vertical feet also tends to self-select a narrow band of clientele.
A lesser known embodiment of helicopter-enabled skiing involves the use of the aircraft to access remote lodges followed by all human-powered skiing. Canada has become a global leader in this industry as well. It started in the 1980’s by a few European (mostly Swiss) mountain guides who had an appreciation for powder skiing and wanted to recreate the comfort of the European hut system but without the crowds. The standard program is to be flown in by helicopter on a Saturday, ski tour for 6.5 days (with optional rest days), and be flown out the following Saturday. Guides, a cook, meals, and hut staff are included in the program. Most lodges are small by European standards — with space for 12–15 guests comfortably plus staff. Amenities vary lodge to lodge with some being quite rustic while others have indoor plumbing and saunas. The staff and the guides are usually Canadian, so the friendliness, hospitality, and smiles are effusive.
I recently returned from a wonderful experience at one of these Canadian heli-accessed lodges. I was skiing in the Coast Range of Canada two years ago as the world began to lock-down with the pandemic; so it was somehow poetic that my first international vacation since COVID-19 started would be to interior British Columbia. The terrain and the skiing were fantastic. The food was exceptional. But what I am most surprised and grateful for on this trip was the company. As you would expect, a passion for ski touring would be requisite for a trip like this. The professional diversity, thoughtfulness, and humor of the guests (and staff) made for engaging discussions on the up-track and over shared meals. The guests included:
- The Chief Scientist of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- The long-time producer of NBC’s Nightline (among others; retired)
- An oil & gas executive (retired)
- A geophysicist / volcanologist
- The CEO of public financial services company (among other accomplishments; retired)
- A renowned French spinal surgeon
- The CEO of a private wealth management firm
- The founder of an education services company
- An engineer for British Columbia’s hydroelectric power
- The president of an international real estate company
- A biotech CEO, founder, and mountain guide
The conversations spanned such a diversity of topics that it would be impossible to summarize them in their entirety. A few of the most memorable included: i) Predicting aftershocks of earthquakes (and the impossibility of predicting earthquakes themselves); ii) Fundamentals of the US economy, the potential for increased interest rates, and the impact of war in Ukraine on capital markets; iii) The process for taking a company public and challenges of running a public company; iv) hydroelectric power generation in Canada with sales and distribution into the western US; and, v) The study of the moons of Saturn. Perhaps the only other element that was close to matching the diversity of the conversations was the apres menu which ranged from foie gras paired with 1996 Bordeaux on one end of the spectrum to nachos paired with tall boys of Old Milwaukee on the other end, and everything in between.
This was a needed and welcome reminder of how easy it is to get caught up in going higher, farther, faster…but it’s the people with whom we get to share a few heartbeats with that make for truly remarkable experiences. And for that I am grateful.