Report dated January 2023 written by Bernice Notenboom
It’s still dark when we put on our ski boots and walk to the helipad outside our cabin. We sit in the back seat like VIPs, the rotor blades spinning at full speed. We take off in seconds. Our helicopter, like a bird catching the air current, turns towards the landing zone on a ridge in high mountain terrain. The pilot lowers the helicopter exactly between the marks on the plot and confirms it. Our guide Greg comes out, opens the door, and takes our skis and backpacks out of the basket as we step into the knee-deep snow and crouch. The helicopter is speeding away and the five of us are left behind high in the Skeena Mountains. We look around in amazement at our loneliness. I’m still chewing part of my breakfast! I was at the cabin five minutes ago; now i click on the laces of my skis.
I’m at Last Frontier Heliskiing in Northern British Columbia, Canada. If you look at a map, it’s far north, on the border with the Alaskan panhandle, so getting here takes some effort. First, it’s necessary to fly to Terrace from Vancouver or Calgary, and then take a four-hour drive to the lodge via Cassiar Highway, the northbound lifeline. The wilderness of Northern BC’s Mountains spans a vast expanse of terrain the size of the Swiss Alps, and this is where Last Frontier has secured the world’s largest single helix field. With an average annual snowfall of 15 to 25 meters, ranging from rugged slopes to steep troughs and beautiful tree-lined clearings, this is the country of top helix. And the best part is that we have everything to ourselves!
Greg skis first up the slope and tests his balance by sticking his pole in the snow. He brings us along one by one and reminds us to pull the rope inside our backpack to inflate the airbag in case the snow starts to slide under our feet and there is an avalanche. We glide from a protected bowl to an open field of dust, enjoying the fluffy feeling of fluffy snow at every turn. Once you find a rhythm, the skis point downhill, you jump back and forth effortlessly, pumping your legs up and down with each turn. It pushes you into this weightless existence, simply being in the present and forgetting the rest. This heavenly feeling is so addictive that you don’t want to stop even if your hips beg you! After cutting a 500-metre long maiden line through the glowing fresh cold smoke, Greg stops to regroup. My Argentinian friends are very happy and we take some rest and hold our breath. “What could be better than ski powder!” One of them is holding his breath. The sun rises and the sky turns vanilla with pink and blue hues. “Soak up the view,” Greg says, “now we’re going down into the trees.”
We follow him through the light dust clumps, vigilant not to fall into deadly tree wells. Narrow trees can be difficult to navigate because your turns must be fast while keeping your pace. Further down, we cycle through gutters, slalom around alder bushes, and ski around and over natural structures. What a playground! As the pilot confirms he’s ready to pick us up, we hear the helicopter buzz on the valley floor, chattering voices over the radio. We packed our skis and poles together and hugged each other as our cable car dived to gather our group for another run. Before we take a break for lunch, we do six runs that seem like forever.
The guides spotted a table of snow, draped a blanket over it, and offered homemade soup, tea, sandwiches, and other treats, which lit up our bodies for another afternoon jog. The fog has moved in the valley and canceled skiing in the high mountains, but luckily there is always tree skiing. All afternoon we cut ribbons in the silky snow in the dense forest, howling and singing as we descended. No time is wasted – drop off, ski, pick up and never wait long and if we did it would be a welcome relief. And finally, at 3:30 p.m., as dusk falls, we hop on the helicopter and go home.
Bell 2 Lodge is a former truck and gas station originally headed to the Yukon and Alaska. In 1996, the co-founders (George Rosset, Franz Fux, Mike Watling and Geoff Straight), North BC. After purchasing the building, they rebuilt it and incorporated it into a heliski village. Even today, 27 years and many improvements and upgrades, Last Frontier is still a family-oriented company. More than 90% of helical operations currently commemorate the ranks of British Columbia, making Canada the undisputed world capital of the sport. And there is no shortage of customers from all over the world. Most of the guests come from Europe, followed by Americans, Australians, Canadians and South Americans. Despite the early season, the lodge is full and every week 36 people pursue this endless, high-quality powder ski that is hard to find anywhere else.
I enter the luggage room, buzzing as returning skiers take off their gear. On the wall hangs a map of 10,100 square kilometers of usage time with more than 1,000 marked runs. With names like Valhalla, Wake-up call, 407 Heaven and the longest pistes exceeding 2,000 vertical metres, it’s no wonder you can ski at the summit of Everest every day! Everyone is smiling and stepping on the gas.
The day ends at Bell 2 lodge with a crackling fire, post-ski snacks, sauna and hot tub before you sit down for a high-quality culinary dinner. The group of skiers is as eclectic as the items on the menu. Father-son teams from the United States, Monaco and Finland, a German bachelorette party, a French school reunion and a family vacation in Argentina. When I asked a Swiss guest why he had come, he said, “I am not rich and have accumulated this world-famous powder for years to ski. There’s sunshine, well-groomed runs, and lots of people at home”. He sighs: “Infinite freedom to choose your path here.” This year we’re chatting about the harsh snow conditions in the Alps and the future of skiing there.
American snowboarder Keaton points to his dessert and rubs his growing “heli belly.” It’s a dizzying tribute to the joy and experience of today’s surreal skiing – and I can’t believe we’re going to be doing it all again the next day! We all laugh, well aware that the intake of all those delicious calories will be more than the 22,000-meter skiing we did this week.