What’s it really like to ski like a boss in one of the world’s most exclusive heli ski domains? This, this is what it’s like.
It is never nice to shatter someone’s dreams, but shatter them I must. Heli skiing is for everyone (if you have the cash) who loves to ski and snowboard. It is not just for the extreme X Games style pro, if you’re a strong intermediate there will be terrain for you. And forget what your heli ski mates want you to think, you won’t be jumping out of a hovering helicopter with skis strapped to your feet ready to James Bond it down the mountain.
Heli skiing in a multi day lodge is, simply, the most civilized way of securing yourself untouched powder without having to work up a sweat to get there.
Of course, not all heli ski experiences are created equal. Consider the heli ski day an entry level experience for first timers. Then consider a multi day lodge to be next level where days are spent flying high in the sky with run after run of pristine powder under the feet and nights are spent reliving that same day over wine and whiskey at a private bar, before doing it all again come sunrise.
Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing is one of the world’s original commercial heli skiing operations. Founded in Canada in 1970, the man himself still breaks bread with his guests, leads up the heli ski guide safety meetings in the mornings and can be seen schussing some snow at his leisure.
What sets Wiegele apart from the plethora of heli ski lodges now on offer around the world is the village. ‘Blue River’, as it’s affectionately known after the remote town in which it resides, is an enclave of 22 purpose built log cabins and chalets perched on the edge of Eleanor Lake and nestled amongst 4,550 square kilometers of skiable terrain in the Cariboo and Monashee mountains.
There’s a main central lodge that houses the dining area, bar, gym, pool room, spa and retail and there’s also a separate Guides Haus that has set the bar for heli ski and backcountry guides across North America. This is the safety hub, where avalanche statistics are kept, snow packs are reported and the guides meet each morning at 6.00am to decide the safest skiing terrain for the day. It is an impressive operation and guests are encouraged to experience at least one guide meeting while there.
The guides are what make or break your heli ski holiday experience, both literally and figuratively. Qualified guides are imperative and the guide training at Wiegele is second to none. But having a qualified guide with no personality means he may save your life on the very off chance you’ll ever need him or her to but he might bore the hell out of you while waiting at the landing zone for the next heli ski pick up.
Lucky for Wiegele guests they have two to choose from. Every heli ski group no matter how small has a lead guide and a tail guide. One to guide you down the mountain, the other to pick you up should you fall. These two guides stay with you for the whole week so you’ll get to know them, and them you, well.
Some have an outstanding repertoire of jokes, others are more the silent type, but all are experts at finding the best untracked lines and then having a good laugh with you at dinner.
There’s even an Aussie, Sam, you’ll find him in the video below.
A typical day
Wake in your lush personal chalet, dress for yoga or breakfast and wander down to the main lodge for yoga stretch followed by breakfast. Dine on a plethora of continental style breakfasts loved by Europeans, hot breakfasts fit for an American and Asian inspired fare for those from, well, Asia.
Greet your fellow heli skiers on your dedicated dining table. These are the folk you will be sharing the powder with all week, so be nice.
Say hi to your guide, you know, the one you met earlier during the helicopter and avalanche safety briefings on the day of arrival.
Retreat to your chalet, dress in layers, fill your pockets with the scroggin, protein bars and chocolate you scored on the snack table at the main lodge.
Prepare for lift off at your group’s designated heli pad.
Fly high in the sky over mountain peaks, glaciers and forests.
Land. Get out from the chopper. Huddle together. Wait for chopper to take off. Wait for guide. Step into your skis. Breathe deeply to calm that heart beat. Take a moment to soak in the remote landscape that you now find yourself in.
Follow your guide down the mountain for powder turn after powder turn after powder turn.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat some more. Ski perfectly spaced tree runs, lose yourself in alpine bowls of powder and whoop like a howling hyena in the process.
Lunch on the mountain with hot soup, gourmet sandwiches, house baked cakes.
Repeat the morning’s skiing. This time with GoPro switched on and smiling wider than you already are.
Return to the lodge. Eat some more of the apres fare.
Take a sauna, a hot tub, a steam, play some pool, drink a pint or spend the apres hours soaking in your spa bath in your private villa with a complimentary cheese board.
Head to dinner. Dine on three courses of fine dining goodies. Order from the impressive wine cellar of over 600 wines.
Dance in the bar or head to your villa for slumber.
Repeat for 5 to 7 days.
On the last night prepare for a party with live music and ‘awards’ including the famous Wiegele White Cap for ‘skier of the week’ for each group and signed by your guides and fellow skiers.
For the seriously swanky
You’ve made a motzah on Bitcoin, or maybe you got Apple options, inherited a trust fund? Then Albreda Lodge has your name on it, 45 kilometers north of Blue River. Grab 18 friends and bed down in your own lodge with gym, sauna, climbing wall, gourmet chef and in house massage therapist. Oh, and your own private helicopter and heli pad not to be shared with anyone. And unlimited vertical, we forgot unlimited vertical.
Too big for you? Choose from the 6 bedroom Bavaian Estate with it’s 3 bedroom Cabana with private chef or the 4 bedroom Eleanor Lake Estate with private spa, gym and library.
On down days
Down days are few and far between but they do happen, usually due to weather and low hanging fog or cloud. The helicopters can usually fly through anything but on the days they can’t you’ll have plenty to do. Blue River has it’s own ice rink and ice skates for figure skating and ice hockey. Plus there’s the lake to walk around, the gym and spa amenities and a giant fire place to curl up in front of with a good book. And Jenga, giant Jenga.
Did you know
Warren Miller filmed his first ski film at Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing in 1973.
The Powder 8 World Championships were held at Blue River in 1980.
Mike Wiegele initiated avalanche research with the University of Calgary in 1990.
Mike Wiegele was inducted into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame in 2000.
What’s the deal
Mere mortals such as I get to hang with fellow mere mortals on group heli ski weeks at Blue River. You’ll join a group of 10 in your chopper, have your own stand alone villa or bedroom within a chalet, ski 100 000 vertical feet in a 7 day week and dine on gourmet fare. From CA$4713 for 3 days.
First timers may prefer an Intro to Powder with one day cat skiing to get you going then 6 days of heli. From CA$8435 for 7 days.
Smaller group heli skiing is available at Blue River in the Elite A Star package with 4 guests and 2 guides per chopper and unlimited heli skiing. Stay at Albreda or Blue River. Enquire for pricing.
Semi private and private packages mean you dictate your days, your ski vertical, your hours of skiing. From CA$73 570 per helicopter for 9 hours of fuel time plus all your lodging and amenities.
Need to know
The trip to Blue River is 2.5 hours from Kamloops airport by the Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing shuttle bus or only 1.5 hours from Sun Peaks Resort where many, like me, go to get their ski legs before hitting the bottomless heli ski powder. Of course you could take a private helicopter or plane from Kamloops…
You’ll need to be a strong intermediate skier and happy to ski open alpine bowls as well as tree runs (the best!).
As if I’m going to say anything other than the week of my life, right? Because every heli ski week is a privilege and the comraderie of my mixed group of Kiwis, Canadian and Dutch combined with the coolest heli ski guides (Sam, Sebastian and Bruce) going meant the powder tasted just that little bit better. Add the food and the gorgeous little chalets and, well, bags be me!