Who: Guest Blogger, Clare Hefferren, VBSR marketing guru and customer since 2010
Where: Heli Ski Vacation | Nakusp, British Columbia, Canada
Once a year, I do something that scares me as much as it excites me. I believe it keeps me young at heart and courageous. A helicopter “heli” ski trip had been on my list for a decade. Why? My ski buddies had been telling me for years that I was ready for it. But mentally I was not there – until this season. And just so I wouldn’t be able to back out, I made a public announcement that I’d be going…eeks!
I set about training and trying different skis. Vista Bahn Ski Rentals (VBSR) set me up with their best powder skis — Rossignol, Liberty, Blizzard and K2. I hit the slopes and the gym. For final preparation I had a Vail ski instructor colleague with CMH heli experience take me through the paces of trees, trees, and more trees. I was ready.
VBSR is known for its amazing fleet of Vail rental skis, and the shop is staffed with expert skiers who are willing to offer advice on skiing and gear, so I turned to them. I’d been loitering in the VBSR shop since 2010 (and in the 90s as a Surefoot groupie). I told them the trip details, including anticipated terrain, amount of daily vertical we’d be skiing, and typical weather conditions.
“The snow and views were untouched for weeks. I describe it as skiing sugar – sooo smooth.”
With these clues to go on, VBSR’s Barclay had me try out several skis from their demo line, including all mountain and powder ladies skis including the Sheeva and Soul7, in addition to my personal Rossi Savory7. Since I’ve been working with VBSR, in marketing and as a gear tester at SIA On-Snow at Copper Mountain annually over the past six years, my knowledge of ski gear has grown along with my confidence, which both added to the mental and physical readiness that I needed before I made the decision to backcountry ski on a heli trip.
Despite such preparation, the month prior to the trip was a comedy of errors. In the end, the friend I was supposed to go with broke his ankle and didn’t go. So off I went without him, a single woman, into the wilderness on a really big adventure.
I flew into Kelowna—a wine region but sadly a bit chilly in winter for vineyard meandering—and drove three hours to Nakusp, BC, Canada, a teensy lakeside town in the middle of the Selkirks, which are part of the Canadian Rockies. Here I began the adventure with CMH Outfitters at K2 Rotor Lodge. This location is known for its advanced alpine terrain; it was 70 percent tree skiing – that’s LOTS of rotary, so look out knees. Out of 46 guests, there were only 6 women, which left me…hmmm…feeling rather like a rock star.
Thanks to the brands that had me show up prepared, cozy, and stylish: K2 “Love Boat” skis, Surefoot‘s Lange boots, Smith Variance helmet, and Bergans ski wear.
Different from my daily view of the Gore Range outside Vail, Colorado, the Selkirks appeared to be endless. As we took in the views from the ridges, the ranges looked like row after row of mountain peaks. While flying from the forest floor to the high alpine ridge in the heli, it was difficult to decide whether to watch the scenery or scout our next run.
I credit a solid portion of the stellar success of the trip to my newfound friends. Traveling alone, I was adopted by five Canadian buddies and four Boston tech venture fellas. A helicopter of ten, we were nicknamed “Clare’s Harem.” These guys were solid skiers who matched the sweet sugar snow and welcomed me into their tribe. I came home with aching ribs, not from skiing, but more so from laughing. Cheers to the fellas and our occasional Hannah “tank of gas,” from Salt Lake City.
We skied five days (only grounded by weather for 2 hours which is rare). With a guaranteed vertical of 77,000 vertical feet, we blew it out of the water at 103,00. Each day began with 6:30am stretch class accompanied by a hilarious soundtrack of grunts and jokes. After a hearty breakfast, we headed to the heli pad for 8:00am lift off. Our ski days included 10-11 runs a day with a mid-run lunch. Our daily drop off was at the local hot springs for après, beers, and a soak. Trust me: I was in bed daily by 9:00pm.
Video: Day 2 was dynamite & landed us on the cmhk2 instagram page. A fist pump to our guide, Carla. Ps. I’m in the lime Bergans jacket.
Based on low clouds which the heli was unable to punch through, the first two days we skied mid-mountain to the valley’s forest floors. On the third day, a cold front came through, clearing the clouds and allowing us to ski high alpine terrain – the tippy top. The snow and views were untouched for weeks. I describe it as skiing sugar – sooo smooth.
- Forest run: Little Furry Forest Friends
- High alpine run: Lost Rabbit
The fifth day was the icing on the cake. At lunchtime, as many had hung up their hat, we were the only group still skiing, and thus we got a special treat. With glorious clear skies, we skied terrain that only two percent of guests are able to ski due avalanche risk. Skiing a ridge line, we lapped the four yet-to-be-named fresh track ribs below. Throwing out names, I hoped to be able to return and see my footprint left behind with the naming of a run.
Guides Rob, Dan, and Carla led the way. Rob taught me how to yodel (try it: yell really loud “Do the old lady too” – makes me giggle every time!). At 63, Dan “Meetcha at the pickup” was a man of few words. When he did speak, you listened and followed closely. Carla drew me in: how inspiring to be guided by a badass female in the Canadian wilderness. Carla’s passion is rock climbing. She’s going for her UIAGM certification, the highest level of mountain guide certification in the world, covering rock climbing, ice climbing and skiing. She was grateful to have a few ladies as, she says, “it can be a bit of a sausage fest.” I, too, was happy to have a new friend who inspires me with her outdoor life.
With cheers, tears and sore knees I headed home to Vail. I catch myself spotting my posse mates in a mirage from afar only to realize they live in Victoria or Boston. I now belong to the fortunate folks of “the heli club” and feel blessed to have taken such a sweet trip. As I return to the locker room, the stories expand and I toast the VBSR crew for supporting my ride. Next up on my list: Ski Alaska!
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When she’s not loitering at VBSR, Clare does brand marketing consulting for outdoor/active/apparel lines and is a part time Vail Ski Girls Rock coach. Learn more about Clare. Follow Clare on instagram.