Why don't more women heli-ski? As luxury ski trips editor, I have heli skied a few times now, a lucky seven in
fact. My issue: it’s always me and the boys. Male guides, male helicopter
pilots, and all male participants. My girlfriends think I am crazy to be getting
in a helicopter and soaring to high
Canadian peaks, skiing remote untouched terrain. One very dear friend said I
was a "risk taker." These women jump out of planes on decade birthdays -they
think sky diving is awesome. I think they are crazy - it's not the jumping, it’s
the landing that concerns me. Back to heli
skiing, and me and the boys.
I won’t pretend for a minute that there aren’t
real risks with heli skiing, I’ll grant my girlfriends that. But there is
immense safety protocol too (probably true of skydiving too). I have oft used
the analogy that skiing is safer than driving, and sure enough on a recent heli
ski day (operator name withheld), our Guide hit a parked car with the shuttle
van on our way to the heli-port. Fortunately he was better on snow than behind
Guide Derek at Purcell Heli Skiing said,
there is low probability but high consequences in heli skiing. The dangers are
dramatically reduced by selecting a reputable
heli ski company, paying attention to the morning safety briefing, heeding
your guide's instructions all day, being aware of your surroundings, and skiing
with skill and care. Ski only where your guide has cleared and stay clear of
tree wells. I was surprised to learn that tree wells are as hazardous to skiers
and snowboarders as avalanches. Yet another reason to give plenty of girth to
the trees when skiing glades.
The helicopter instruction are also vital, like NEVER walk behind a helicopter,
huddle close to the chopper during landings and take offs. Once skiing, NEVER
pass your guide, ski exactly where he tells you to, and do not ski away from
Women are very good at following instructions, traditionally attentive and good
listeners. Women are typically caring and careful, and less apt to overstate
their ski ability. These are all important qualities in a heli skier, therefore
I think women who are strong expert skiers would make good heli skiers.
I asked our Kicking Horse Mountain Guide
Sandy, a Level 3 PSIA woman, my ladies’ heli skiing question. Sandy quickly
replied, “Women lack confidence.” If that is the case, let me say that heli
skiing is not typically hucking cliffs, dropping huge pillow tops, or ripping
two arcs down a 4,000’ face. Ski films do a disservice by showing extreme heli
skiing on super steep pistes with skiers doing back flips off cornices. That’s
the exception, not the norm. On the flip side, heli ski operators promote that
you need only be a strong intermediate skier, I disagree.
You need to be very competent, fit, capable of skiing double black diamonds at
any ski resort, be prepared to ski windblown, rime, deep powder, tight trees,
crud, anything – perhaps all in one run. Heli ski terrain is inimitable and
unpredictable, high alpine adventure with no lifts, no lodges, no signage, just
pristine untouched (read: un-groomed) imperfect picturesque snow.
Heli skiing still makes me anxious, in a good way, I get crazy amped the night
before. I don’t take lightly the risks, but I cannot under sell the rewards.
After that first heli flight to the top of a magnificent mountain in the middle
of nowhere, the fears subside and the skiing adventure begins. The camaraderie
that develops between your ski group and your guide is special too. I just wish
I could share this exhilarating experience with a gal or two. How did I do
convincing you ladies? Did I mention you are outside on the mountain all day
long, including lunch in the snow, with no powder room, well just one big powder
room? Am I selling it ladies? Or is it still going to be just me and the boys?