Maxed Out 

The cocaine of skiing

By. G.D. Maxwell

There are probably scarier things than flying in and being within rotor reach of operating helicopters. In fact, I’m sure there are. But with few exceptions, those other scary things aren’t the kind of things you’d choose to do, given the choice. Flying in and being around operating helicopters is, however, something most of us would do, given half a chance. Especially if those helicopters were dropping us – and some skis – off on top of a powder-covered mountain and promising to pick us back up when we got to the bottom.

Repeat as necessary.

And so it goes this week. Through the combined benevolence of Ski Press magazine, Canadian Mountain Holidays and a pitch I never in my life believed they’d both fall for, I’m in the Cariboos for a week skiing my buns off over untracked, ultrafluff, damn-near-lighter-than-air, nostril-clogging powder. April showers bring deep powder, or something like that.

But despite the delirium, despite the four-seasons-in-a-day combination of heavy snow squalls, convection clouds, blazing sunshine and deep shade chill, despite the powder snow so monotonously untracked it blinds and overwhelms your sense of direction, speed and pitch, there’s still the helicopters.

Like some malevolent Godzillaed dragonfly, the Bell 212 hovers briefly overhead then descends, landing inches – okay, maybe feet – away. Prostrate like penitents awaiting redemption, we kneel silently, covering ourselves from the buffeting, the stinging wind-blown snow crystals that try to roll us away like so many tumbleweeds.

No matter how much I tell myself helicopters are safe in the hands of highly experienced, psychologically stable, non-hallucinating pilots, I can’t shake the feeling of imminent doom. The stroboscopic light and shadows playing over the snow within my limited, head down, knees to chest field of vision reminds me of what’s whirling inches – okay, maybe feet – directly over my head. I wouldn’t feel a thing. One moment light and wind and cold... the next, eternal silence and two halves where before there was a whole. A temporary newspaper headline, a coroner’s investigation, a stain on the snow.

But that never happens.

Heliskiers get whacked by avalanches. By heart attacks from too rich food and too much unaccustomed exertion. They get tipsy and drown in hot tubs, fall asleep in saunas that melt them to jelly, leaving only fat-stained towels and dental records. They gag at the size of their bar bill at the end of the week or have their bus slide over a guardrail on the way back to the airport.

It’s never the helicopters.

But still, the thought is rarely far from our minds – well, my mind – as that immense beast with the blades spinning so fast they all but disappear in an ethereal blur, lands next to us; it’s just that no one wants to discuss it. The skiing is too much fun.

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