Heli and Cat Skiing on BC's wildest landscapes.
By Anita Draycott
More than half a century ago, winter adventure pioneers set their sights on BC’s wild landscapes — exploration that spawned a deep-powder industry in pursuit of untracked terrain. Heli- and cat-skiing rose from the Kootenay Rockies, and today, more than 40 heli- and cat-ski operators have proudly planted their flags on BC’s slopes.
Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) started it all for high-flying heli-skiing adventurers. Indeed, it was Hans Gmoser who, more than 50 years ago, made a historic helicopter trek, six skiers in tow, deep into the mountains of BC — a journey that would redefine the boundaries of the sport and open up exploration of largely untapped swaths of terrain. Today, CMH continues to push, or at least redefine, boundaries, thanks to some of the most diverse programming anywhere; it’s all here, from Powder Intro skiing and riding that turns newbies into devotees to pulse-thumping terrain worthy of Powder Masters. For a sense of sisterhood, Girl Powder brings like-minded ladies together to explore some of the province’s finest stashes.
If a full seven days isn’t in the cards, single-day heli-ski adventures promise a tasty alternative. Indeed, day trippin’ in BC has never been easier: rk heliski lifts off from Panorama Mountain Resort, guiding groups through expansive glaciers and glade skiing in the Purcell Mountains; Selkirk Tangiers Helicopter Skiing delves into Selkirk and Monashee mountain terrain, accessed from the base of Revelstoke Mountain Resort; and Eagle Pass Heliskiing, just south of Revelstoke, leads the way through the Monashee Mountains, a range revered for its spruce and alpine fir tree skiing.
For something fresh, White Wilderness Heliskiing is the latest crew to join BC’s family of whirlybird operators. Situated east of Terrace, White Wilderness explores a boundless chain of alpine bowls, glaciers and treed runs with programs that include Heli-Assisted Ski Touring and Steep Skiing/Powder Intro Camps (remote tent-based steep skiing is also available). In addition, White Wilderness takes full advantage of its prime location along the mighty Skeena River with Heli Fly-Fishing excursions that angle for spring-run steelhead trout.
These Cats Purr
If heli-skiing touts its pioneers, homage must be paid to Selkirk Wilderness Skiing cat-skiing pioneers Allan and Brenda Drury, a husband-and-wife team who first forged the path, tucking adventurers into the warmth of a snowcat to ply their way through powder to reach remote terrain near Kaslo. While the operation has since re-emerged as Selkirk Snowcat Skiing, the crew’s core elements of more than 40 years have remained the same: consistent accumulation of dry, deep snow, far beyond the boundary of a resort, blends temptingly with high alpine bowls and challenging steeps and chutes.
Further northwest, Cariboo Snowcat Skiing revels in small-group adventures. Indeed, the operation, north of Valemount, takes full advantage of its remote Cariboo Mountain region, a slice of heaven celebrated for its generous snowfalls; Mica Mountain is also blessedly free of flat areas, which translates into run after run of fantastic fall-line skiing. As a bonus, this outdoor crew will customize the day’s excursions, ensuring that every skier and boarder makes the most of their powder play.
Northern Escape Heli Skiing, in BC’s Skeena region, offers the unexpected: heli-assisted cat-skiing. Here, deep powder beckons, and a heli-drop (weather permitting) makes for a memorable first run in the mountains near Terrace. If the sun doesn’t come out, skiers and boarders need not worry: the crew’s cat is there to transport keeners into the thick of Skeena’s backcountry. For those who still have steam, a blend of cat- and heli-ski outings promise the best of both worlds.