April 24, 2009 Features & Images » Feature Story

The Bella Coola Lure 

2,000-metre ski descents, 200-kilo Grizzly Bears and 20-pound salmon make summer at British Columbia’s legendary Bella Coola Heli Sports a trip out of the ordinary. Way out of the ordinary.

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(Editor's Note: The ski and snowboard season may be winding down in this part of the world, but spring is peak season for exotic locales like Alaska, the sub Arctic and B.C.'s own Bell Coola. Recently Bella Coola Heli Sports - which put this region of coastal mountains on the map - increased their tenure are significantly to 10,700 square kilometres. That's 2,650,000 acres of terrain, making it the largest single heli skiing area in the world, larger than the entire Swiss Alps. The tenure now stretches over 200 km of coastal mountain ranges from Dean River in the North to the slopes of Mt. Waddington - B.C.'s highest peak - in the south. So far Bella Coola Heli Sports has mapped out 500 runs in their tenure area over seven years of operation, a number that will increase with their tenure. While there is world class heli skiing from border to border in B.C., Bella Coola has been featured in countless ski and snowboard films, and is on the way to becoming one of the most famous destinations in the world, and a place where every hardcore powder hound has to visit at least once.)

Into The Wild

Wheeling across the Chilcotin Plateau is a savage journey through the heart of Canadian wilderness. The iconography of loneliness starts in Clinton, where travelers etch names on weathered wood tacked to a cluster of signposts, much as pioneers and explorers left evidence of their passage. After Williams Lake there's a whole lot of nothing and waypoints get weirder-occasional shoes thrown inexplicably over phone wires in the middle of nowhere (very Canadian...) and clutches of beat-up buildings like Alexis Creek where the bar boasts more animal heads than tables. Why? Because Grizzly, Black Bear, Moose and Deer are so numerous along the highway it's like driving through a wildlife park. Finally, the mountains and ice-caps that have hugged the southern skyline for hours rush towards you as the road tumbles a nightmare 1,300 metres to the Bella Coola Valley. The cliff-hugging switchback was constructed by locals: one guy started with a bulldozer from the bottom, another guy from the top. They eventually met in the middle-a marvel of dirt-bag engineering that defines the region's spirit.


Bella Coola lies at the head of a tortured network of islands, inlets and fjords, 150 km inland from British Columbia's Central Coast. The mountains rise directly from the sea to 3,000 metres; steep, heavily glaciated, and very snowy. A hybrid coast/interior weather pattern offers deeper, drier snow than areas closer to the Pacific Ocean, and more stability than further east. Deceptively chiseled peaks drop 2,600 metres to valley floors-much like Europe and not at all like anywhere in North America, including Alaska. It all translates to ski routes down massive powder aprons, through convoluted glacial seracs and a bouquet of lengthy, inviting couloirs. A dozen ski and snowboard films made this place heli-skiing's new Shangri-La-ironic given that this was precisely the terminology used in both Nuxalk native legends and by white explorers to describe the lush, treed valley of meandering rivers and abundant fish and wildlife.

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