British Columbia’s True Skiing Heights Reached by Helicopter
A few years ago, a dear friend of mine kept a promise: she was heli-skiing. She was almost 40 years old and it would be a birthday present for her.
And what kind of friend would I be if I let her heliski when she turned 40 on her own? I signed up, happy to pretend it was about celebrating her milestone rather than living out my childhood fantasy as well.
She chose Purcell Heli-Skiing in Golden, BC, because it’s the kind of operation where people like us – middle-aged, middle-class members with carbon-intensive dreams – can get a taste of the absurd concept of flying in a helicopter. snowboarding. Back then, a day trip there was about the same price as a week at an all-inclusive resort in Cabos, which is an easy calculation for those of us who had posters of Powder 8 on our walls when we were kids.
Purcell – then owned by the Gertsch family, now housed by the same crew but controlled by heli-adventure giant Canadian Mountain Holidays – is entry-level luxury. CMH Purcell doesn’t have a fancy lodge in the backcountry with steam showers and decadent meals. It’s for day trippers – and those who want to extend the stripped-down experience to two or three days. A day at CMH Purcell is more expensive now – the equivalent of a sunny all-inclusive vacation in a beautiful location resort – but groups are now limited to six, giving guests the option to take more tours.
Neither my friend nor I was bothered that Purcell lacked yoga classes in the morning and wine tasting in the evening. Purcell’s no-frills operation is always pretty fancy: you fly. In a helicopter. To go skiing.
There was a moment, just before the first run of the day, when everything was calm. The helicopter had lifted off and the handful of skiers and snowboarders in our party stood silent on top of a mountain. We looked around, stunned by our loneliness. We were the only inhabitants on a planet of endless mountains. The sky itself was a birthday present: perfectly blue.
Purcell cooked up a snow snob’s dream buffet: we snowboarded through open powder fields and through narrow trees. We drove through the ravines. The brave sailed on natural elements which sent them to the sky; the prudent skied around the springboards. We cut ribbons in the silky snow all afternoon.
At lunch, the guides brought out tea, sandwiches, and treats, and we ate on Top of the World. The day ended at Purcell’s Lodge, with a crackling fire, aprÃ¨s-ski appetizers and cans of Kokanee. We dazedly remembered with new friends the moment we all went heli-skiing – and dreamed of doing it all over again.
If you are going to
Golden, British Columbia is 260 kilometers west of Calgary on Highway 1. Check your logbook before driving. Arrive in Golden at least a day before heli-skiing, in case the highways are closed for avalanche control or construction. Spend a day or three warming up your legs at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.
The CMH Purcell is not an all-inclusive heli-skiing experience. Day trips start at $ 1,949 per person and can be booked through cmhheli.com/our-lodges/purcell. Customers must provide their own accommodation. Options at Golden include a downtown inn, motels and hotels on the highway, condos at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, and upscale cabins in the woods. The Tourism Golden website has a full list of accommodations: Tourismgolden.com/accommodation.
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