Sunday night at Panorama, they
had a guest reception in the day lodge. Good carrot cake and bad cider.
Folks from various resort departments telling you of all the fun you can
One of the people was Don Bilodeau, Ski Canada Magazine writer and director
of the Ski School. I asked him about the "Powder, Stumps, and Bumps" clinic,
which was reasonably priced, included lunch, and might afford me an opportunity
to ski the "Extreme Dream" or beyond with something of a guide and a coach.
Well, after finally conveying to Don that I was not the average Panorama
skier, he admited that this clinic might not be best for me -- aimed more
at the aspiring powder bump stump skier.
So, at the urging of my lovely wife, the highly intelligent and beautiful
Doctor, that pinnacle of womanhood with whom I share my life and livelihood,
I made arrangements to join R. K. Heliskiing for a day of purchased powder.
Earn your turns? Why, when you've got a Visa card?
Here's the deal: R. K. heliskiing has a HeliPlex right there at Panorama.
Walk to it from the condo. Plop down a piece of plastic, next day you are
in the air. Packages included the "standard" 3 runs and lunch, or the "Deluxe"
five run. Depending upon time and people, additional runs were available
a la carte.
on this trip described Panorama as a donut hole. All around it are even
bigger mountains, which gather snow like a frosting on a Maple donut. The
hole stays clear.
While the sun shone at Panorama, it was dumping big time just a couple
of miles away in the heart of the Purcell Mountains (adjoining the legendary
Unfortunately, dumping just enough on Wednesday that the copter didn't
venture to the glaciers and we didn't get much above tree line. So darn,
this kept our runs in the 1800-2400 vertical foot range, rather that the
3000' possible on a good day.
The day went something like this:
8:45 -- Walk over to Heliplex. Check in. Eat complimentary fruit and
Danish breakfast. Sit and get anxious.
9:15 -- Call comes to boot up and meet outside, ready to ski.
9:30 --> 10:15 -- Briefing session: bundling our skis for transport.
Getting in and out of the machine safely. Emergency procedures. Ortovox
avalanche beacon operation.
10:15 --> 10:40 or so. Group "A" boards helicopter and takes off. Group
"B" takes Minibus ride to Mineral Springs staging area, couple miles into
10:45 -- We hop on the chopper, fly up the valley and land near top
of mountain, just above tree line. About 8000' altitude, about -2 degrees
Celsius. About 8-10" powder on ground.
10:50 We're off!
group had about 11 people and one guide. Of the two groups, everyone including
the guides were on some form of "fat boy" ski, except for Wesley and some
old guy named Jim. On our first run, I skied about the middle of the pack,
but probably led the group in spills and general wind sucking. While the
snow at 8000' was pretty nice, after about 800' of vertical it got darn
wet and heavy.
I dunno if it was the general excitement/anxiety, the snow, or the altitude,
but for the first time I can remember, my vintage 1990 207 cm. Volkls just
didn't quite hack it. I was sloppy. I was out of breath. I insisted that
I was having fun.
At some point, trusty guide mentioned that there were two extra pairs
of fat boys under the seat of the helicopter, just in case. I was stubborn.
I was having fun just the same, I don't need no stinking cheater skis.
I ski long skinny skis. That's the way I am.
It was a matter of misplaced and displaced pride, I think: while I was
proud of my ability to ski the long boards, fact was, I just didn't look
like a Ski God.
Our guide offered us an analogy: "Pulling your pud is OK, as long as
your friends don't see you." At the bottom of run one, I relented. I strapped
on a pair of ridiculously short, incredibly wide Atomic snow toys.
Next run, I was at near front of pack. They were short and squirrely,
but they floated like clouds caught in a jet stream. Prereleased a couple
of times, still not quite used to the feeling. Fat boys felt good, and
nobody was there to see me. Well, now I;ve told 300 people about it. Call
me a whose if you want -- I still got off.
Both these runs were on a western facing slope, each about 1800-2000'
of vertical, 8-12" of absolutely untracked virgin, albeit at times heavy
and packable, powder.
12:00 -- 12:30 or so. Lunch at bottom of second run. I was so exhilarated,
I wasn't hungry. Barely finished my bagel sandwich.
12:30 -- Finally, we're off again, this time to other side of valley,
to easterly facing slope. Here, snow was a bit colder, a bit lighter. a
bit deeper. And a bit steeper, too.
My group consisted of two old German guys, four late fortyish businessmen/dentist
types from Ohio, older guy Jim from Toronto who used to live in Vancouver
and skied Whistler regularly (he was the other dude on traditional skis.
He switched, too), a thirty something Brit, and two youngish guys from
Idaho. These latter two guys -- Bill and Jay -- were true tribesmen. Bill
was there by virtue of loans and debt: his regular gig was grad student.
Jay skied 120 days a year and tended bar at night. Both ski at Schweitzer.
Bill and I became the powder pigs trio. Everyone else had just enough of
a cautionary streak and some way misplaced politeness not usually seen
at Mad River or other tribal territories on a Big Powder Day. Even when
we started last, we finished first.
We dropped down through a beautiful steep and deep glade, much tighter
than first two runs, and I finally hit my stride. Powder Pig mode clicked
in. Godhood was restored. A Fat Buddah kind of godhood, but godhood just
the same. Floated like a feather down through what seemed like piles of
more feathers for some 2000 verts which seemed to end all too quickly.
That should have been that. I signed up for the 3 run package. But our
guide told us that since we were skiing shorter runs that day, everyone
got one more free. WooHoo! He then asked if any of the four people who
signed up for 3 runs wanted to do more (and pay more). Well, a bit of a
bait and switch -- just like the slushy snow before offering Fat Boys --
but I was hooked. Hey, it's only Canadian money...
And if I wasn't sure before, run four was one big inescapable hook.
We went up a little higher, maybe two or three hundred feet above tree
line, little more northerly exposure. Now we're talking serious knee deep
or deeper, and some big wide open spaces, with lots of steep and a few
rolls and drop offs just for fun. Last third of the run was gnarly stumps
and bumps and jumps, all coated in soft white fluff. I guess it proved
too gnarly for most of the group: the Powder Pig Trio and Guide could have
done another run while waiting for the stragglers to finish up.
much fun, we did it again, although we cut it short just above the gnarly
section in deference to the old and flat land dwelling.
Finally run was back near sight of run three, but with a bit of a twist
that dropped us around a small cliff and into the steepest and tightest
glade yet. But a 20th Hole kind of glade, where you could scoot around
a blind corner and it would always open up again just beyond. Finally,
back into the more open but more gnarly lower slope above the waiting helicopter.
All in all, not the steepest I had ever skied, nor the deepest, but
certainly the most consistent run after run top to bottom never cross a
ski track untracked I had every skied.
Biggest regret? I'd like to have the last two runs back again on my
Maybe next year?