Pacific NW/AK/BC Canada -- I nailed it! (Extremely Canadian and Northern Escape Heliskiing)

Mike King

AKA Habacomike
Louisville CO/Aspen Snowmass
This was my 5th visit to Northern Escape Heliskiing, and, somehow, for some unknown reason, Ullr decided to smile on me! Here's why I say so...

Yea, it was deep.

But before we get to the deep stuff, we first stopped off at Whistler. My son-in-law accompanied me on this trip, as he has for the past 4 years. We usually visit Whistler, and we've found it to be particularly advantageous to hire a guide/instructor from Extremely Canadian. Extremely Canadian (as I now understand it) is now owned by Vail and is actually a division of the ski school. The guides/instructors are ski school staff, but most of the staff are, more or less, full time with Extremely Canadian. We hire a private guide for 3 days. I've usually gone with Steve Mayer, a CSIA Level 4 instructor and big mountain skier. He's phenomenal both as a guide taking us to stuff I'd otherwise never ski and working on technique for skiing the biggest, gnarliest stuff I've ever tried.

Condition wise, the snow up high was pretty ok with 8-15 cm of fresh the first day, probably 15 cm the second, and a bit less on the third day. These totals are what we skied, not what was reported. And it was raining from roughly ¾ the way down Blackcomb glacier to the valley floor. Meaning that there was some manky snow that we also skied.

The first day, we started on Blackcomb. We made a first lap down Jersey Cream Wall in the fresh pow for a warmup, then headed to the glacier for our first run. One of the great, great things about Blackcomb is the Blow Hole, a steep couloir that has walls that can be in excess of 50 degrees in steepness, yet the distance to the floor of the couloir is minimal enough that there's little consequence to a fall or mistake. Steve put us to our paces, practicing side slipping in the steepest parts of the wall to limber us up, minimize excessive tip lead, and put us into a position to minimize the risk of being high sided. We dropped around the corner and traversed into a steeper couloir, around 45 degrees, that opens onto a pan below. The entrance looks like this:

And, if I'm not mistaken, it eventually looks like this:

It could be that's from one of our lines off of somewhere else, but it's about as steep as the first line.

Over 3 days, we skied a lot of terrain. Things like Chainsaw Ridge, Purple Haze, Swiss Cheese, Prime Rib (in a white out while at least 18 inches deep), Saphire Bowl, bunches of lines off of the Peak chair at Whistler, first tracks in Reservoir trees and the old t-bar line, etc. All while working on our steeps technique.

Steve suggested that we try some rockered skis as by son-in-law and I were both on pretty burly wide skis with a strong tail: he a Bonafide, and I a MX98. So, we tried the skis that Extremely Canadian has for trial: the current (17/18) version of the Soul 7 HD. I went for a 188. It's a great ski for the conditions we were skiing: steep off-piste in crude and soft snow. It was frightening on the very firm outrun from Blackcomb glacier initially, but I eventually got a bit more used to its flapping around and engaged the ski on the near ice.

All in all, it was an incredible three days and my steep skiing improved a lot.

Next, we took a day to travel to Terrace to visit Northern Escape Heliskiing. This was my fifth trip, and by far the best snow I've encountered. I've never seen as much snow at the lodge:


It had been snowing a lot the week before we arrive, and there was 35cm that fell the day that we arrived. The next morning, we mounted our steed for the day: a Bell 407 helicopter:

It was deep:


And it continued to snow. Day 2, we found ourselves cat skiing, as there was so much new snow, and so little visibility, that we could at best ride the heli to the base of the cat skiing backup. In the afternoon, we transitioned to heli skiing. And got some incredible views as the clouds parted for a bit:


Day three, and Terrace was buried in the midst of a winter storm. The schools closed. Highways were closed. And we couldn't get to the cat skiing terrain. Nor would we have had much fun, as anything with any pitch was off limits with the avalanche danger -- it would have been extremely difficult to move give the amounts of new snow. So we went -- curling! What fun! An amusing pastime that would've been much better with beer.

Day 4 and 5 were incredible. On day 4, we started in the cat as the avalanche danger was quite high. The snow was very cold and dry,. Did I say deep? Like this:

NEH2018-5599.jpg NEH2018-5818.jpg NEH2018-5792.jpg

So, the Skeena mountains are part of the coast range and are huge, immense, impressive, awe inspiring, and daunting mountains. Here's a few photos for context:

NEH2018-5561.jpg NEH2018-5671.jpg

Well, it was a fantastic trip. I highly recommend both operations.