Ah, the finer things in life…. that sports car, yacht, vacation home, or replacement spouse with a couple fewer decades on the ticker. Admirable pursuits, indeed.
There comes a point in every skier or boarder’s life, however, when you need to put that stuff aside and plunk down a little cash for a powder trip so luxe you’ll be talking about it for the rest of your life.
Five-star accommodations? Check. Gourmet meals? Yep. So much vertical your thighs will be begging for mercy, and powder so deep you’re going to need to floss it out of your gaping maw? You know it.
Check out TLH Heli Skiing in Gold Bridge, British Columbia. In March 2011, Untracked Guides had an opportunity to join Dendrite Studios, B4Apres Studios, and Epic Planks for a four-day filming trip at TLH Heli Skiing.
Under the watchful eye of new ownership and a dedicated staff, TLH Heli Skiing has re-established itself as one of the premiere heli skiing destinations in the world.
Recent improvements include multi-million dollar upgrades to the Tyax Wilderness Lodge, a beautiful log “cabin” easily capable of accommodating the 20 or 25 guests that may be present at any given time.
They’re now placing an emphasis on drawing in the core skier by offering unlimited vertical and assigning only one group of riders to a helicopter to eliminate waits while the bird drops off another group or heads off to refuel. With only one group to a helicopter, you can fly farther out into the massive tenure right off the bat to get to wherever the snow is best that day.
The average day includes about 10-20 runs, between 7,000 and 10,000 vertical meters, and if you’re up to it and the weather cooperates, it doesn’t have to stop at “just average.” At 830,000 acres, TLH Heli Skiing is 27 times larger than every ski resort in Colorado…. combined.
“Bon appetite, bitches” beams pro skier Alex “Blazer” Blais when we realize what’s in store for dinner on the night of our arrival. With a nightly four-course menu reading like that of a gourmet restaurant, every bite is a treat.
(Breakfast is no slouch either, and lunch is enjoyed picnic-style in the mountains). Dinner’s followed up with a cocktail or Whistler Pale Ale from the full bar, and relaxing or a game of pool in one of the ample lounge areas.
With full bellies and maybe a bit of a beer buzz, everyone heads off to bed to try to get a few winks of shuteye while dreaming of the coming day’s events.
Morning dawns, and we’re all bummed to see the surrounding mountaintops shrouded by clouds. It seems doubtful that we’ll even be able to fly that day, but at around 10:00am the weather begins to break a bit and we get word that we’re going to give it a shot despite the cloud cover.
That turns out to be TLH Heli Skiing’s M.O. – while another heli operation might leave you sitting in the lodge while waiting for better conditions, TLH Heli Skiing is confident that they can get you safely out and back under less than ideal conditions.
That’s good, because while many heli skiing operations have cat skiing backup, TLH Heli Skiing does not because it would take the machine at least a couple of hours to reach the tenure area.
For next year, they’re talking about adding rally car driving on frozen Tyaughton Lake as a regular down-day activity, adding to other existing activities such as a game of darts, movies, ice hockey, snowmobiling, ice fishing, cross- country skiing, foosball, the spa, the hot tub, and of course, drinking heavily.
On our trip, those concerns went by the wayside and we were able to fly every day.
With a stable of five helicopters, TLH Heli Skiing will put you into a nimble A-Stars or Bell 407s for smaller groups and Bell 212s for larger groups.
At ten riders, two guides, and a pile of gear, our group maxed out the capacity of the 212, a twin-turbined machine that can maintain cruise speed for 30 minutes even if one engine goes out (“Dude! There’s plenty of time left for one more run!”).
For our first drop, our pilot Steve and lead guide Greg put us on top of a playground of steep trees and pillows, which were promptly shredded. Jon Whelan, an Epic Planks rider fighting out of Nelson, B.C., made it look purdy for the camera down a nice pillow line.
Danny Arnold, a young Epic Planks athlete from Michigan drafted for his talent in the park but with a newly discovered big mountain jones, decided to carry a bit more than the recommended “average speed” from the top.
The result: an intended 20-foot drop turned into a 40-footer and Danny nearly introduced his back door to the tip of a beckoning evergreen while on final approach. No matter – with meters of fresh superhero snow on the ground, it could have been 80 feet and he would have been fine.
Historically, popping for a heli trip has meant you’re going to experience a lot of alpine glacier skiing, which TLH Heli Skiing has plenty of and is a ton of fun. On a flat light day with recent heavy accumulations, though, it’s a good bet to stick to the trees to enjoy better visibility and snow stability, which we ended up doing for the first two days.
The drop points we encountered on those days, along with our guide’s go-get-‘em attitude, confirmed the expanded opportunities for those looking for a bit wilder terrain than has been traditionally available. If your group is up for it, TLH Heli Skiing can put you in some terrain (both below treeline and in the alpine) that will give you all the excitement and challenge you can handle.
If you prefer sticking to the mellower glacier skiing, that’s fine too and your guides will be happy to get you to the loads of classic goods.
Like the first day, the second day dawned a bit cloudy, but this time we were able to take off as scheduled at about 8:30 am and were soon exploring large gulleys with multiple drop options, nice steep ridgelines, and pillowed meadow runouts to the bottom of the valley.
Near the end of one run as we wrapped up a shoot, we turned to see our pilot Steve hoofing it up towards us, with skis strapped to his back. Taking advantage of our slower film pace, he’d brought his own gear for the day and hiked for turns, meeting us maybe 400-meters up from the bottom and leading the gang gleefully back down to the bird, bouncing through waist deep pow while whooping it up all the way.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the thing dream jobs are made of. As the day progressed, the weather began to break, and on our flight back to the lodge we were treated to our first views of the alpine that we would attack on the third day.
That night, with word from the guides that the snowpack had stabilized and the clear skies were staying, we knew that we would soon be getting into some of the steep alpine goodness that ski movies are made of.
As hoped for, the following morning we shot straight to the top of a glacier for a mellow warm up and some sweet powder turns amidst bluebird skies. Words can’t even describe the size of these glaciers – simply immense.
At the bottom of our second creamy run of the morning was a 500-meter headwall that the guides had spied for some serious bizness lines.
While we waited for the film crew to get set, another group dropped down an untouched portion of the same glacier, with ample fun evidenced by the daffy popped off by the last of the group to pass.
Meanwhile, Matt Elliot and the Blazer were dropped to the top of the headwall for the first poke, with Matt seamlessly etching turns down a beautiful spine and Alex picking a steep line to a 30-footer exit, each stomping their lines and hooting on the glacier runout.
Maxim Arsenault then put his game face on and nailed a seriously exposed descent, opening it up halfway down and screaming off a 50-footer while Steve put the heli into a banking dive so the film crew could nail the shot while hanging halfway out the door, courtesy of climbing harnesses. Following high fives and a fun run through a gully out to the helicopter, we flew to a run named Magic Mushrooms for glory shots and airs over boulders doused in 15 feet of snow. A great day, indeed.
So what’s a regular day in the life of a TLH Heli Skiing guest? You’ll sleep in a very well furnished private room or suite, one of many divided amongst three floors of lodging. Breakfast is served buffet-style starting at around 7:00am, and you can wake up a few minutes before that for stretch class if you’d like.
The guides give a weather and game plan update at around 8:00am, and if all goes well you will take off at around 8:30 and ski for a few hours before lunch, which you can either eat in the helicopter or slow down and enjoy while taking in the scenery.
Skiing lasts until about 4:00pm, and an après-ski meal of soup, stew, fruit, or coldcuts awaits your return at about 5:00pm. A dinner that will probably blow your mind is served at about 7:00pm, after which the night is up to you.
You could go relax in the lakefront Jacuzzi, or maybe a massage in the spa is in order. The world is your oyster at TLH Heli Skiing.
You can get into the TLH Heli Skiing experience for less than you may think, with weekend packages starting at $1,650 per person in the early or late season (for one day of skiing and two nights of accommodations).
Of course, you could also spend as much as you’d like, as did one elderly European woman with an apparently bottomless bank account and her own private helicopter for the week.
(Our inquiry into her need for a 30-something boy-toy was politely ignored, or this story may have been drafted from the deck of a yacht moored in Monte Carlo.) Other options include 3-to-7 day trips, heli-assisted touring, and package deals including lift tickets and accommodations at Whistler before making the trek to TLH Heli Skiing.
Access to the lodge is quite easy if the weather cooperates, with air transport provided from Vancouver or Whistler to the Tyax Lodge. If the weather is socked in and the air transport can’t fly, you’re looking at a roughly 4-hour shuttle transfer from Whistler.
Other good stuff to know:
You can fly at 240 km/hr for 10 minutes and still be within skiable tenure at TLH Heli Skiing. All patrons are outfitted with high-tech ABS airbag backpacks, which inflate at the pull of a ripcord to help keep you above the snow in the event of an avalanche.
Standard Avalung systems (not the full backpack) do mesh nicely with the ABS backpack for extra safety measures, but aren’t provided, so you may want to bring your own if you have one.
A complimentary demo fleet of powder skis and boards is available, but bring your own boots, and let them know in advance of your needs. Tips at TLH Heli Skiing are handled at the end of your stay, so don’t worry about tipping your guides, servers, and bartenders every day – you just tab out (credit cards are fine) at the end of your stay, and the tips are divvied up.
Don’t be cheap – the staff does a great job, and deserves a good tip. To ease travel, TLH Heli Skiing recommends that all international travelers stay in Vancouver or Whistler the day prior to arrival and on the day of departure from the lodge. Finally, Alex Blais is not one to be messed with in foosball.
About our merry gang:
Dendrite Studios released its debut ski film, “Out Of The Shadows,” in the fall of 2010. Though filmed with an extremely limited budget compared to the competition, it promptly began winning awards, including Best Big Mountain Film in the Open category at the IF3 Awards in September 2010.
The Dendrite guys expect to release their follow up feature length film in 2012, and in the meantime publish regular webisodes that are definitely worth a watch. A special thanks to Nicolas Teichrob of Dendrite Studios for all of the photos in this article.
b4apres Media was formed in 2009 as a result of the founders’ eye-opening trip to Kashmir, which resulted in the beautiful and poignant documentary “Azadi Freedom.”
Also a multiple-award winning film, Azadi Freedom explores the relationship between skiing and the recovering social and economic culture of Kashmir, a region torn by conflict between Pakistan and India in the 1990s. Go watch it. Better yet, go buy it. You won’t be disappointed.
Epic Planks is a Michigan-based ski and snowboard manufacturer that began selling its first model, the Crop Duster, in 2010. By building extensive partnerships with strong skiers around the world, the company is focused on building handmade skis that compete with the best out there.
Standard features include wood cores for light weight and pop, and graphic design unlike anything else. Look for the Crop Duster under the feet of cat skiing and heli skiing guides near you.
Upcoming models include the Sherpa, a burly all-mountain or tele choice, and the Spinner and Khione, each perfect for the park and your all-mountain adventures. The Stash snowboard rounds out the 2011/2012 lineup.