Confessions from a backcountry skier: I like to ride the heli!
Silence. Snow softly falling dampens the sound of the forest, save the slight squeaking of my boots and old bindings as my skis plow slowly uphill through a foot of fresh powder. The uphill struggle is a huge part of why I love earning my turns backcountry skiing. Are the turns actually better when you earn them? Some may argue that they, indeed, are. In the past, I have considered myself one of those people.
Snow flies as the heli takes off from the ridge top, as we get higher the views open up and I am granted a birds eye view of the incredible terrain that I usually see from the ground. WOAH, I’ve never even noticed that that line goes! And the snow looks DEEP across the valley. I wouldn’t normally have considered these lines on a day like today. In the backcountry, the avalanche danger is rated as Considerable above and near treeline. I certainly wouldn’t have ventured out into steep, tight couloirs with this much fresh snow.
When the heli leaves us on the exposed ridge it’s a bit of a shock. I’m not used to just being dropped into exposure. It’s a different feeling than spending the whole morning working into more and more exposed terrain. My heart is definitely pumping. Wait, I can hear my heart beating? It’s totally silent now, just like the backcountry. Quietly, our guide tells us about the season-long avalanche mitigation work they have been doing on these chutes. From skier compaction and explosives, they don’t rate the risk at considerable here. You mean I get to ski THAT, TODAY?
We ski one at a time. Leaving fresh powder for the others in our group. Dropping into the steep powder I recognize that the snow feels more stable. My guide is watching from a cut out in the couloir, should something go wrong I know he has my back. Nothing goes wrong though. Each turn throws snow over my shoulder and into my face. My hair is collecting snow. If I had a beard, it would certainly be plastered in white. I get to the bottom of the line to my new friends whooping and hollering. It’s epic today. We ski the rest of the way down to the helicopter together. Already tired and satisfied. But it’s time to load back up for 5 more runs, it’s only getting better.
By the end of the day, my legs are somehow burning even more than a typical day in the backcountry. I have some new friends to grab an après drink with in the tent, and I’ve taken 5x more turns than I typically have time and energy for.
I’ll never stop loving earning my turns, but I am definitely a Heli Ski convert. 100% worth it at least one day a season. 11/10 would do again.
-RL, Heli Convert