The helicopter rotors thump in cadence with my heartbeat. I am more than amped for our day with Purcell Heli Skiing, after months of anticipating and an hour long safety briefing and transceiver training. We climb into our exclusive ski ride, a Bell 205 helicopter, in moments we are flying like a bird high in the sky, soaring over Kicking Horse Mountain Resort towards the high elevation, highly scenic untracked skiing in the Purcell Mountain Range.
This is the creme brulee of skiing. Its not for the faint of heart; the avalanche training and the waiver would scare the ski pants off some. The price tag (about a grand for the day) could keep others grounded. But the rewards are immeasurable, arguably priceless.
I am feeling surprisingly safe with our heli pilot, two guides, my husband/photographer and five new German ski buddies. Arriving at the summit of the spectacular Silent Glacier, we unload and huddle, as the chopper departs in a furry of snow and wind. We rise to calm, quiet and hundreds of snowcapped peaks, no civilization in sight. Rudi, our guide and owner of Purcell Heli Skiing, leads us down a windblown snowfield that opens to a bowl of pillowy protected powder. Heli skiing has a rep for being extreme and super steep, but that is the rare case. Most of what we what we ski is moderately pitched, but amazingly scenic and special.
Our day with Purcell Heli Skiing is an adrenaline rush of ski, ride, repeat, a sequence of six uniquely gorgeous runs on terrain you don't experience in bounds at a ski resort. Some runs are super long starting from over 9,000', others are in snow loaded glades that lead to open logging fields of soft billowing pillow top snow layers. Nothing is groomed or predictable so you have to be ready and able to ski anything. Lunch is a picnic on the fly in a snowy sunny spot perched next to our helicopter before our guides expertly moved us on to more high-alpine terrain.
During our final heli flight back to the lodge, the grins among the group are irrepressible. High fives, hugs, and an apres ski platter are shared back at Rudi's chalet lodge by the huge fireplace. Rudi presents us each with a Purcell Heli Ski pin that we will treasure as a remembrance of a ski day unlike any other. Fears and financial woes are absolved, this is a true alpine adventure - a must for any expert skier that wants to go beyond ski area boundaries, above the clouds, to fly like a bird and ski the untamed, untouched in its natural element.
Things I love about Heli Skiing and Purcell Heli Skiing
Experience - Owner and Chief Guide Rudi Gertsch is a Bergfuhrer, Europe's highest mountain guide certification, since 1962, and was among the first to open a heli ski operation in Canada in 1974.
Terrain - 250,000 acres of vast terrain is PHS tenure, so you can be flying and skiing in almost any weather and snow conditions.
Safety - heli skiing safety protocol is intense and important. Your guides study the snow and set the track. Your part is simply to follow instructions, never pass your guide and don’t do anything stupid.
Just a Day - Purcell’s $995 day heli skiing operation is just 15 minutes from Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, and an hour from Banff and Lake Louise, so its a great add on to a Canadian Rockies ski trip without the commitment to a full week heli skiing which can run $10,000+.
Camaraderie - sharing a helicopter with your small ski clan of 8 with whom you have entrusted with your safety and visa vie - you develop a quick solid bond. Skiing amazing terrain only deepens that friendship.
Life Affirmation - Going outside your usual ski habits, away from the trail map, you see how blessed we are, how beautiful our mountains are and how skiing was perhaps intended to be.
Purcell Heli Ski Photos by Greg Burke
Eric Wilbur is a lifelong recreational skier who spends most of his winter and spring in the mountains of New England. He does not ski in jeans. You can read more of Eric's work here.
Heather Burke is an award winning ski journalist with over a decade of ski news coverage. As a former ski instructor and a ski parent, she knows the ski biz from the inside out. She and her family visit New England ski resorts, as well as the West and Canada, to report on the latest trends and their best family finds. Her husband Greg takes all the accompanying photos, and their work can be seen at www.familyskitrips.com and www.luxuryskitrips.com.