What Doesn’t Kill You… Helicopter Skiing in Canada

In the shelter of a Quonset hut in Kootenay, British Columbia, our guide John instructed my husband Danny, myself and 8 others on the fundamentals of helicopter skiing and how to stay alive over the next three days. I had won the trip with CMH for two. “This is an avalanche beacon. Slip it over your head, snap the belt around your waist and turn it on.” We would each wear a backpack that held a probe and shovel and would take a turn following the group with a satellite radio. “I hope to God we don’t need any of this equipment,” I thought. The guides had already given us our humongous skis.

I hope I never have to use this probe on anyone buried in an avalanche.

While I sat there shivering, my new ski boots pinched at the calf and my toes tingled from lack of circulation. “They felt like slippers when I tried them on in the shop last Monday!” I had broken rule #1. Never buy new ski equipment without trying it out before a trip - and this was no ordinary trip. I reached down and unbuckled them. As the conversation swirled around that frigid metal shelter, I began to sweat.

Double black diamond (expert terrain) does not faze me and I can get down any mountain, although it’s not always pretty, but I had never been a tree skier. Danny assured me I was up to the challenge. “If it’s anything like my other trips, it’ll be wide open bowl skiing.” In other words – no trees. Now that I had arrived, I wasn’t so sure.

“I am about to hit 2,000,000 vertical feet,” Peter boasted. He was a professor from Hawaii, but looked like a surfer. Some responded with similar totals.

“I just want to get my money’s worth,” said Marie who had traveled from Quebec, “$7,000 was a pretty big setback.”

Danny and I exchanged glances and I hoped he would keep quiet about my good fortune.

“My friend Tammy broke her leg two days ago on similar terrain,” said Janet.

I remembered seeing a young lady with a full leg cast at the lodge the night before and wondered if this “similar terrain” would end up breaking one of mine.

“All those hours of working out had better pay off,” said Chuck. I had chased after tennis balls on a court all winter and had skied on weekends, but had that been enough preparation?

Soon the distinctive sound of helicopter blades could be heard overhead. We hustled outside. The sound was deafening as it landed.

“Go, go, go!” shouted our guide. We kept our heads bowed and then pulled ourselves up into the helicopter.

This video will get an idea of what it is like inside the helicopter

I found myself in the middle of the bench seat. Danny sat next to me at the window. There were four of us across and we faced four others. There was a jump seat on the side that held the other two skiers and our guide sat in front with the pilot.

“Susie! Put away your camera and hurry up!”

I could barely move and my heart rate soared with the helicopter. After unzipping the collar of my jacket, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I went to my happy place. It’s a big white room where I can see and hear the ocean outside a large picture window. My heart rate decreased to 220 beats per minute. I gazed out the side window at snow covered mountain peaks as far as I could see.

After touching down, we climbed out onto a white snowy summit. We hunched over as we took a few strides and then threw ourselves down, covering our faces.  The thrust of the air from the propellers turned the snow into millions of mini projectiles that struck the backs our hunched bodies. We had been warned not to sit up when the helicopter took off since the force of the wind could blow us over or off the mountain top. I peeked over at Kirk who sat upright. He was an older man and it was probably hard for him to get into that pod-like position. He was thrown face first as the helicopter took off to shuttle another group.

I trudged through the knee-deep heavy snow to the pile of skis unloaded by the guide. I searched for the ones with Susie taped on them, but Peter pounced first, unstrapping my skis and poles with what seemed like superhuman speed.

As I clipped into my bindings John said, “Follow my traverse along the top of the ridge to avoid an avalanche, but once we start skiing the bowl, try to stay close as possible to the other’s skier’s tracks. Then follow my path when we ski into the trees.”

“Oh my God! Did he say trees?”

While I tried to keep up with the skier ahead of me, I felt out of control of my mammoth beast-like skis which chattered like my own teeth. I regretted buying the now unbearable new boots. My thighs burned as I tried to make the turns in the deep heavy snow. This was nothing like the dry light champagne powder of Colorado.

I was the ninth skier on the traverse and the packed trail increased my speed as we entered the woods. Each tree seemed to leap out at me as I raced by. I began saying Hail Marys out loud as I turned through the dense pine forest. I was so out of my element. I fought back tears and then a clearing appeared ahead.

Somehow I had made it down to the bottom of the mountain without smacking into a tree. I joined the rest of my group as my legs shook in exhaustion.

“Was that great or what!” Peter the surfer professor said.

I glanced at my watch and it was only 9:30. “Crap! How would I survive this day and next two?” I asked myself.

“How long will we be skiing today?” I asked John.

“We’ll be out until around 4:30.”

“Will we be going back to town for lunch?”

“Nope. We’ll meet some of the other groups at noon and will be served lunch outside.”

“What happens if someone bails and just doesn’t want to ski anymore?’ I asked.

The others laughed and the guide responded, “Once you’re here, you’re here for the day, unless someone experiences a life-threatening injury.”

Danny walked up, put his arm around me and asked, “Are you okay? You were great in the trees. I was right behind you.”

Oooooooh! Do you feel the burn?

“I’ll be okay,” I replied with a lump in my throat. I looked up at the helicopter coming to take us to the next mountain top.

“Let’s go!” our “commander” shouted.

This is like the freakin’ army!” I thought, “Why couldn’t I have won a $14,000 trip to the beach somewhere?”

Later, I discovered the high performance tabs velcroed inside the back of my boots and pulled them out. I still couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the top buckles. I just kept them open for the duration of the trip.

During those three days, I jumped off a 12 foot cornice and almost slid off a 50 foot cliff. I had to side-step up a mountain face to get off that ledge created by a fallen tree limb as the snow began to slough off underneath. I also skied in some of the most beautiful terrain in the world. I got the hang of those enormous skis and began plowing through the trees.

"Hey! That was fun! Let's do it again!"

Our days always ended with a dip in the hot springs. Then back at our hotel, we devoured a 7 course gourmet dinner. The wine and conversation flowed with new friends from all over the world.

Back in Colorado, there have been many times when I’ve ducked into the trees to make fresh tracks on a powder day. “You’re crazy!” Danny has said and then smiled.

Last year, I found the hidden adjustment under the top buckles of my boots through the help of a friend who worked fitting skis and boots in Aspen. It made such an amazing difference!

~~~

"Now that was a Wild Ride!"


Making fresh tracks!

Have you ever felt unprepared for an adventure or new experience?

Do you feel that getting out of your comfort zone helps you to grow as a person?

The top photo and bottom two by Chuck Perkins – The rest by Susie Lindau

 


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75 Comments

Filed under Humor, Life, Sports

75 responses to “What Doesn’t Kill You… Helicopter Skiing in Canada

  1. Pingback: I Had a Little Adventure While You Were Dancing! A Photo Essay | Susie Lindau's Wild Ride

  2. I’ve Skied Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone… and my local area… Just few days ago… I took up boarding with my kids… would love to get them all up to speed and enough saved up to come out there again… but my youngest might be the problem… he’s DeafBlind…
    Oh! Vail just bought our local ski place…

    Like

    • I hope you make it back out here again soon! The resorts are doing great things in getting the handicapped on the mountain. It would greatly depend on the willingness of your child.
      What is your local ski area? If you buy a pass it would work with Breck and Keystone since Vail owns them too.
      I am glad that you stopped by today!
      All the best to you in 2013!

      Like

  3. Pingback: A Wild Year in Pictures | Susie Lindau's Wild Ride

  4. Incredible. I haven’t even heard of such a thing. Looks great

    Like

    • Talk about WILD! It was a blast, but my equipment was giving me a problem. Next time I would like to go with my family. There is one that is more service oriented where you get your own helicopter for the day so it is a lot less stressful! …saving my money!
      Thanks Shay!

      Like

  5. Duuuuuuuude. You should come out in a Gatorade commercial ;)

    Like

  6. WoW!!! You are an inspiration!! I can’t imagine having the guts to do something like that. I do agree though that forcing yourself out of your comfort zone helps you grow as a person. Well Done Susie!!! Conquering fears and loving the ride (at least when those boots got fixed) ;)

    Like

    • I can’t believe it took so long to find that adjustment. Hahaha!
      Thanks so much. It was hard because the snow was so heavy, and our guide on the third day almost got me killed, but I lived to tell the tale and that’s all that matters!

      Like

  7. ***The LensMaster

    My heart was pounding as you were skiing by those trees. Whew!!! I would love to experience the same rush some day. (^_^)

    Like

  8. I’m pretty sure I had a heart attack just reading this, so I doubt it will be in my future. But OMG! How totally thrilling and exciting and terrifying for you. What an adventure and you sound glad that you stayed. I think I’ll just live vicariously through your wild adventures (again).

    Like

  9. What a fantastic and adventurous read! I would so love to do something like this but that is as far as I will ever get – the idea being one thing, the reality??? Glad you had so much fun with it all, I am in awe!

    Like

  10. Harper Faulkner

    Lord have mercy, child! You do stuff I don’t even dream of doing. Just let me know when it’s time to sign you cast! HF

    Like

  11. You’ve written this in a way that made it very real for me. Twice, I found myself holding my breath. Beautiful job!

    Like

  12. That was so steep! What an amazing experience Susie, I laughed at the part where you had to keep quiet about winning the trip, I can just see your face trying not laugh. How funny! It’s a fair while since I’ve done anything outside of my comfort zone. I guess moving to Canada was the last big thing. Knowing you have to do it all day with no option for backing out is scary, good on you.

    Like

    • I really didn’t want everyone hating on me before I even got a chance to really introduce myself so we kept how I won the trip on the down low.

      I had confidence boosting conversations and self-affirmations going on in my head, the entire three days that we skied! Like, “Come on! You can do this!” It was really good for me.
      Thanks Catherine.

      Like

  13. Alright Susie! I think this is awesome!

    I love skiing. What an amazing opportunity!

    Aren’t you glad that you won that trip? Beautiful!

    Thanks for sharing this with us! :)

    Like

  14. I’m so glad it went well, Susie. In Calgary we’re always hearing about accidents in heli-skiing. sounds amazing, although I have to admit I don’t ski. I don’t understand putting shiny boards on my feet, going out into the cold and down a mountain. yikes.

    my hat’s off to youl

    Like

    • Thanks! A snowboarder in another group got pretty busted up and the man I mentioned, Kirk, skied with a torn ACL the whole trip. He emailed me after we went home. No major casualties… Whew!
      Thanks Louise!

      Like

  15. Julie Catherine

    O. M. G. … Susie, I was sitting on the edge of my seat sweating bullets just reading this and watching the vid! You are one cool lady! I’m disabled, so getting to another room is being out of my comfort zone – thank you so much for letting me live vicariously through you – totally amazing! ~ Julie :)

    Like

  16. Ya know after reading this blog and I do believe this is how we met on this great literary piece – I flipped out.
    When I watched the videos all I could think of was a disaster waiting to happen.

    Of course this comes from a couch potatoe..:)

    Well done..
    HUGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG

    Like

  17. Holy crap! I cannot believe you did this.

    We can never, ever ski together.

    You are my hero.

    Are you going to be in next year’s X games?

    Like

  18. Oh, that’s nothing…I can get down any mountain too…I’ll be the faint scream you hear coming from inside the HUGE!!! Snowball…
    NO PROBING PLEASE….

    Like

  19. Hi Susie! Awesome writing!
    What would you say about those norwegian crazy gays?

    http://wp.me/p1Y1tg-3V

    Like

  20. So what’s next? Climb Mount Everest? Swim the English Channel?

    I found nice blue slopes in Colorado and Montana to be plenty of challenge for me.

    Like

  21. Wow. Hats off to you, Susie! I don’t know if I would have been as brave. I have been beyond my comfort zone skiing many times. And also a few times in bike races. It is truly terrifying and great at the same time. You just have to ski (or ride), you don’t have time to be afraid! :) I know what you mean about boots too. It has been one of my ongoing issues for the last 20 years! I am contemplating a boot fitting next time we go skiing. Right now I’m nursing a toenail that’s going to come off I think because it was so bruised in the boot before I figured out how to adjust the ankle buckles right. (Sigh.) Wish I was skiing right now! Thanks for the inspiring post.

    Like

    • Thanks Kecia! You are so right!
      Boots are the key to skiing. Now mine are so comfortable. It is really a shame that the person who set up my bindings, ruined all the adjustments. I hope your toe heals quickly! I think it is snowing in the mountains!

      Like

  22. Hi,
    Wow, what a fantastic adventure, I would never be game to do anything like that, you certainly showed a lot of courage.
    I bet you were really excited when you won this one, it all looks fabulous, and I loved the videos, and the photos.

    Like

    • Thanks Mags for checking it out!
      It is so funny. When I discovered the fundraiser we attended was giving away a trip for two, I started visualizing winning it! When they announced my name, I screamed!
      It was quite an adventure and I survived to tell the tale!

      Like

  23. oh my gosh, Susie!! What an exciting and terrifying story! Good for you going down that hill amongst the trees. :) You did such a wonderful job.

    I tried skiing on New Years Day and I’m not a big fan. Although, to answer your question, getting out of my comfort zone did help me grow. I think it is important for people to try new, different and zany things. You never know until you try!

    Awesome post.

    Like

    • Thanks Darlene! I started writing about a year ago and it took me waaaaaaay out of my comfort zone. I graduated in art and was a medical illustrator before having kids. I agree that you just have to go for it!

      Like

  24. Anonymous

    Your wild adventures (both in fiction as well as reality) never fails to surprise me. If I’d ever win a prize like this I’ll trade it in for a relaxing vacation at a warmer place. They’ll have to reward me extra to accept an adventure like this even as an award.

    Like

  25. Coleen Patrick

    I admire your sense of adventure Susie!!
    Once when we went camping with the kids we decided on a quick hike after we set up our tent. We ended up getting lost and in that moment before we finally found our way back we realized how unprepared we were–one bottle of water that was quickly finished and no phones at all.
    Now the story is fun to tell–because we ran into some really huge spiders and webs when we had to go off trail, but we learned a lesson in preparation! :)

    Like

    • Preparation is everything! Now that everything is on the computer, I am sure CMH has a lot more information. 3 yrs. ago, there wasn’t much to go on….I assumed since I won the trip, it was probably one of their easier trips. Danny said it was the most challenging!

      Like

  26. Anonymous

    You sound like a candidate for one of those avalanche pack chutes like that girl used just recently…other than that – go for it!

    Like

    • I could have used a parachute on that ledge!! That was a climactic moment that I am so very glad I lived through.

      There were a lot of blind turns in that forest on that run and our guide was a tool. No one had any idea there was a mini-box canyon just beyond the trees. I could easily have turned and skied right off that fallen treeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee………….((((splat))))
      Thanks!

      Like

  27. What a fantastic adventure! Props to you for sticking with it, that takes guts. Beautiful photos, thanks for sharing!

    Like

    • Looking back, there was so much pressure. They were trying to get in as many runs as they could. I had to keep up!
      Next time I would love to do it with my whole family and go to a location where we would get our own helicopter for the day…
      Thanks Audrey!

      Like

  28. INSANE. But I loved living vicariously through you! Susie, you’re so amazingly cool!!

    Like

  29. Wow…what a wonderful adventure!

    I’ve done plenty on cross country skis through forest, but on hills, not serious mountains. The height thing would do me in!

    Like

  30. Please don’t take offense to this Susie, but you have some balls on you, girl! Seriously, you’re one brave blogger!

    Like

  31. That was a wild ride! Thanks for sharing your fears, pluck, and new-found love of fresh tracks among trees.

    Like

  32. Wow, Susie. I’m in awe of your courage. I’m such a wimp when it comes to physically risky adventures! ;) My husband, on the other hand, is a climber, deep sea diver and former sky diver. I’ve gone out of my comfort zone “climbing” with him (mountains to me, steep hills to him) and also faced my fear of water in my mid-twenties; I floated for the first time in a pool full of two-year-old classmates.

    Every time I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone, physically or emotionally, I’ve grown. Your story is a fantastic illustration of this. Thanks!

    Like

    • Thanks August!
      I would love to sky dive, but only if the opportunity arose and I didn’t have time to think about it. Oh boy, now that I wrote that, it will probably happen. Fasten your seat belts!

      Like

  33. Anonymous

    How cool!

    Like

  34. Oh my. My husband is an adrenaline junkie, so we do some interesting things (like swim with sharks) but not this interesting. Thankfully for me, my husband’s one no-go area is skiing or I know he’d be wanting to try this.

    Like

  35. mommywritervkent

    Fantastic! I wish I was brave enough to endure the cold to do something like that, but the cold and I are not friends. Lol. Thank you for sharing!!!

    Like

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