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I had arrived after spending the day with a group of 14 heli-skiers from Poland. Despite the previous day's forecast, that morning had shown little promise as I drove in from Pemberton in moderate snowfall, in the dark. At the guides meeting, we surveyed the weather info and after some hemming and hawing, we decided to go for it based on a glimmer of hope in the models and a gut feeling.
After launching from the heliport, our lead guide went west but encountered thick cloud; went east where it was better but still marginal; and then veered north and ended up landing as a drying air mass met the group. With both groups in the field now, we had found ourselves in reasonable weather, skiing knee-deep, low-density snow on high alpine glaciers. Yahoo!
These Polish skiers had gambled on an early December ski holiday to Whistler, and had booked their heli-skiing from home before they left. While the heli-skiing was the highlight of their trip, it was not where they spent most of their time. The rest of their trip was spent skiing on Whistler Blackcomb, eating and drinking in local restaurants and bars, shopping in retail locations all over the resort, and ending the day at their chosen accommodation. They were thrilled with their Whistler experience and their group leader was already working on a return plan for next April when he came by the store to say goodbye the next day.
These folks were not part of the current Garibaldi Park Management Plan process. And they were not elitists. They were people like you and me, spending more money on a vacation than they ever would at home to fulfill a life-long skiers' dream in British Columbia where 90 per cent of the world's heli-skiing takes place. It's something many people in Whistler can relate to.
Although the weather was difficult that day, the logistics were not, this early in the winter. Come peak season, Whistler Heli-Skiing regularly operates four helicopters and services up to 100 skiers a day. These holidays come with high expectations. The by-product of a resort with a reliable snow advantage is tough weather. We never know which day will work so we've come to learn the best plan is a flexible plan and flexible plans need options.
Along with our smaller Bell 407s that can go deep into our tenure, we need larger Bell 205/212 helicopters that can move a significant amount of people at one time as is typical of sizeable heli-ski companies in the province. This type of aircraft has limited range and the group size is best suited to wide open glaciers where we can manage the hazards and deliver the product. However, we are well aware of when the Spearhead is at its busiest and last season we avoided key weekends and limited ourselves to 26 days and 850 skiers.
December 5, 2013, 11:00 AM
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