Jan 14 2013

When in Doubt, Head North!

My second favorite mode of transportation

It’s been another rough year in Colorado for powder hounds. Yes, Wolf Creek has been getting it as usual and Steamboat has had it’s moments, but for Front Range skiers and riders the pickings have been slim. Fortunately, there’s a cure for that – what I like to call the BC solution – packing your bags and heading to our neighbors to the north where the snow is deep and the living easy.

All by my lonesome…

For this year’s BC adventure we choose Valhalla Powdercats, the sister company to Snowwater Heli-Skiing who we visited with a few year’s back. While the snowcat is a more earthbound creature than the helicopter, it still has the ability to transport you to magical places full of bountiful powder and untracked lines.

Dave dropping in

But while lots of places have deep untracked snow, what Vahalla also offers is super fun dynamic terrain with guides who love nothing more than showing it off. Cliffs, chutes, glades, meadows – you name it, they got it. And with only 12 guests and no snow farming it’s your own personal playground – pick a line, any line.

Aaron airing it out

Mira demonstrating that “anything you can do, I can do better”

While down in the states I generally try to stay close to the ground, up in BC, the sky’s the limit. Perfect hero snow tends to encourage launching and Valhalla had both the terrain and the soft landings to spur us all on.

Of course, just regular old ripping is fun too…

It also helps to have a great group of riders to enjoy all that snow with. And for once, the boarders outnumbered the skiers. But if nothing else, we certainly proved that we can all get along just fine.

Gary says “full speed ahead”

and “may I have some more, please”

The one variable on every ski trip is of course the weather. On this trip, the gods decided to bless us with snow every night, as a matter of fact, we didn’t see the sun till the last day. And frankly, none of us missed it.

Snow, snow and more snow…

Of course, blue sky does make for good photos…

All in all it was an immensely satisfying trip that will keep my powder fever at bay for at least a week or so. Can’t thank the folks at Valhalla enough for all their fine work and the happy crew below who certainly know how to have a good time.

Now that’s a lineup…

So once again, I thank my lucky stars for having the good fortune to experience all that the mixture of deep powder, wicked terrain and good friends has to offer. For the beautiful photos in this blog post I’d like to thank Melissa Welsh Photography who did a great job of covering the action and can be your personal photographer if you ever make it up that way. And as you can tell from the photo below, for me, there’s no business like snow business…

Life is good…


Jan 19 2010

O Canada

Love thy neighbor

Love thy neighbor

We had one final day after our love fest in the Valhalla mountains but sadly the snow and fog returned so while there was deep powder everywhere, we could only access the runs close to the lodge that we had been doing for days. Now don’t get me wrong, these were still great runs – steep shots with lots of fresh snow – but after getting a taste of what the surrounding mountains had to offer we were all hoping to experience a little more of the nearby terrain.

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Ah, the memories

All in all it was a great trip. I always love to check out new terrain and what better way to do it than with a helicopter at your service. In the end we only really got to go exploring on 3 of the 7 days, but even the close in stuff  provided tons of excellent riding.

My kind of run

My kind of run

This trip also reminded me once again how lucky and spoiled rotten I am about powder skiing. There were a couple of first timers on the trip who were raving about what was at best a marginal heli day, which is still of course much better than almost any day on a ski hill. But once you’ve tasted the kind, all you want is a little more. Fortunately, the day we spent in the Valhallas was pretty much worth the whole trip by itself as I will not be forgetting those runs and that scenery till my brain cells totally deteriorate.

What's not to smile about?

What's not to smile about?

I would also be totally remiss if I did not thank everyone at Snowwater for doing everything possible to make our trip a great time. The guides and pilots went above and beyond the call of duty trying to get us out in very difficult conditions and the staff treated us like kings at every turn. Patric and Mariah were tremendous hosts – it felt like one week long party with good friends that just happened to be at a heli resort.  I will definitely be returning some day to check out the rest of their terrain and give Patric another chance to level me with an infraction (it’s a long story). Till then, I’ll be checking the weather and dreaming about O Canada…


Jan 17 2010

All hail Valhalla!

Finally above the fog

Finally above the fog

We finally won the weather battle yesterday. No fog, snow or wind – instead we got blue skies and cold temps – just what the doctor ordered. This meant we could go exploring – and like the Norse gods of old we headed to Valhalla.

First stop on the Valhalla tour

First stop on the Valhalla tour

Patric Maloney, the owner of Snowwater has a saying – A day in Valhalla, a customer for life. Today we got to find out if this claim was true. The Vahalla range is one of three in Snowwater’s tenure and a little bit of a haul to get to but it very quickly became apparent that it was well worth the effort. The scenery alone was quite spectacular – massive granite peaks towering over beautiful valleys filled with old growth trees. But we weren’t really there to sightsee, we were itching for some big mountain skiing after days of fighting the weather around the lodge and Valhalla definitely delivered.

Keith airing it out

Keith airing it out

When people think of heliskiing they often see a picture of perfectly spaced parallel tracks down wide open glaciers. While that has its’ allure it’s not why we go to British Columbia. We go for the natural terrain park that nature provides us. Big rocks and cliffs, pillows and mushroom caps, nicely spaced old growth trees – you name it, they’ve got it.

Love those old growth trees

Love those old growth trees

It was one of those days that makes all the time I spend chasing powder worthwhile. Run after run of steep varied terrain with unlimited opportunities for airtime. The guides call them “gigglers” because as you reach the bottom of the run you’re as giddy as a kid at your own birthday party. For one day at least we were all in heli heaven.


Jan 15 2010

The answer my friend…

still chasing the dream

still chasing the dream

The weather has been a big factor on this trip. Every day we seem to highlight a different meteorological feature and today’s winner was the wind. We started the day by going back to Tropicana where we had great fun two days ago. When we got out of the helicopter we were greeted by winds gusting to at least 60 MPH. This makes for both tricky skiing and of course difficult flying. Our pilot today was Ben and there’s a saying around the lodge that goes “Ben would do it”. He certainly did a masterful job today because shortly after the flying started snow and fog joined the wind for the perfect bad flying weather trifecta. Despite that we managed to get 5 runs in before heading back to the lodge for lunch.  After our food break we headed out for a few more before the weather gods shut down the heli for the day.

the cat patrol

the cat pack waiting for a ride

As I’ve mentioned before Snowwater has cat backup for just this kind of weather. So midafternoon we all piled in and headed back up the hill. While we all would rather have been flying in the bird, the cat does have its’ advantages. It’s a much more social place with tunes and plenty of good conversation. It’s also a great place to take a nap if the urge hits. And at Snowwater while the cat terrain is short, it’s also steep and lots of fun. Adding to the excitement is the mad rush that occurs when 13 powder junkies all see a steep untracked powder laden slope below them. The guides do their best to spread us out but patience seems to decrease in direct proportion to how much new snow is on the ground. Fortunately there’s plenty of lines for everyone and there’s an extra rush of adrenaline when people go flying by you as you make your way down the hill.

lining up for the next chinese downhill

Tara and friends lining up for the next Chinese Downhill

All in all it was another fun day out on the hill. Where the wind hasn’t compressed the snow, it’s still quite soft and deep. And for tomorrow there’s rumors of another weather feature we have yet to see – the sun. Bring it on!


Jan 14 2010

Now that’s more like it!

Fog, fog go away

Fog, fog go away

We’ve been battling the weather all week but it’s finally starting to turn in our favor. Still fighting the fog but on the first run today we discovered that foot of fresh snow had fallen overnight and while not champagne powder it was a far cry from the Sierra Cement we have previously been dealing with. So while we were still having to play and hide and seek with the helicopter, when we did get to land the riding was fabulous and only got better as the day progressed.

Kevin in the pow

Kevin in the pow

One of the advantages of the heli operation at Snowwater is that they have a cat backup in bad weather. So after lunch we jumped into the cat to ski some close in terrain. Now while on Monday, this terrain was a little more tracked than I would prefer, today all the snow had refreshed the runs and provided us with some very sweet powder laden steeps. After a couple of cat runs it was back in the heli and while we couldn’t go far, the snow conditions were now moving into the superb category making for some very happy clients.

Fellow members of the Snowwater 12 step powder program

Fellow members of the Snowwater 12 step powder program

Sadly, two thirds of the original 12 folks had to leave today. I can thank the gods, Ian McTavish and my support system back home for allowing me to stay for another three days (I was originally supposed to leave today). This evening 8 folks from Rossignol including pro athletes are coming in for some photo shoots so it should be an interesting rest of the trip. We also get all new guides tomorrow which brings a tear to the eye as besides being tremendously hard working and excellent route finders, were also great fun to ride with. I felt particularly blessed as our guide Scott Newsome is the only certified guide in Canada that uses a snowboard to guide with so for once I was led around the mountain by one of my own kind – loved the lines he chose as well as his guiding philosophy.

Snowwater's fearless leader

Snowwater's fearless leader

As I write this it is dumping once again so have high hopes for tomorrow. Either way it’s been a fabulous trip so far as the staff at Snowwater led by the highly entertaining Patric Maloney and his lovely and talented wife Mariah Grant make sure everyone’s having a good time all the time. Been to a lot of heli and cat ops but can safely say that none have as lively or as an engaging an atmosphere as the one that permeates every aspect of the Snowwater operation. As my favorite roommate and staff photographer Kevin Edwards just said to me – “this place has the soul of skiing”.  Party on dude!


Jan 14 2010

Getting better all the time

Out in the great wide open

Out in the great wide open

Day 3 of our Snowwater adventure. Finally got away from the lodge and started to explore the Bonningtons, one of the three mountain ranges Snowwater’s tenure covers.  Didn’t take us long to discover that while there was good snow up high, we needed to avoid going too low if we wanted to have our legs last all day. After some good but thigh burning runs we landed in an area called Tropicana. Now I’ve been drinking Tropicana since I was a wee lad, but it never tasted better than it did today. A 2500 foot consistently pitched slope with widely spaced trees allowed for high speed rippers that would warm the cockles of any snowrider. The persistent fog that has been haunting us for days chased us away for awhile but dissipated in the afternoon so we returned to greedily chug the Trop till our belly’s were full. There were nothing but smiles in the heli at days end.

Kevin making the most of it

Kevin making the most of it


Jan 12 2010

Was it something we said?

Last night as we went to bed confidence was high. The stars were out, a cool wind was blowing and even though the snow near our lodge could best be described as creme brulee (a thin crust with soft stuff beneath it) we felt tomorrow held great promise. Unfortunately, like the best laid plans of mice and men, it clouded up in the middle of the night and at four in the morning  started to rain. By eight it had turned to snow but with temperatures hovering around freezing, the helicopter was a no go for the day. The rain that did fall also significantly raised the avalanche danger which in turn severely reduced the terrain available by cat. The staff here rose to the occasion by holding an impromptu avalanche training course and then managed to find some terrain that was safe to ski. There was even some deep powder to be had for short shots and the heavy snow made for a good workout. All in all they did the best they could to salvage the day and we’re all grateful for that. The bigger concern is that it’s still misting/snowing and unclear as to whether tomorrow will be any different. So we’ve all promised to be good and never do again whatever has caused this to happen but only time will tell if our prayers will be answered…


Jan 11 2010

No more pineapple!

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My temporary home sweet home

Now I love Hawaii as much as the next guy. I’ve had many a fine vacation in that tropical paradise. But when I’m visiting British Columbia I don’t want anything associated with the Hawaiin Islands particularly something known as the “Pineapple Express”. This term refers to a weather pattern where warm moist tropical gets funneled directly from Hawaii to British Columbia. While moisture is generally a good thing, the warm air that comes with it is not and can lead to rain throughout the BC mountains in the middle of January. I have experienced this phenomena before and it’s not a pretty thing. Unfortunately the area I’m visiting right now is in the middle of this pattern and while we’re fortunate it’s not warm enough to rain, it has made the snow very heavy and more importantly has caused a lot of fog which makes flying a helicopter quite problematic.

nice accomodations

nice accomodations

This year our group chose a new venue for our annual helitrip – Snowwater. Like all the heli and cat places I’ve visited in BC, it is very nice, with comfy rustic lodges, great food and wonderful staff who cater to your every wish. What they can’t do however, is change the weather. They do have the benefit of having a snowcat that they use when they can’t fly but they can only ski the local terrain for so long before it starts getting skiied out which is not a term I want to be using on a helitrip.

Looking for freshies

Looking for freshies

For most of the day we played hunt and peck with the helicopter and the fog. It would look like it was clearing, so we’d get in the heli but by the time we got to the top of the hill the fog would close in again preventing us from getting any distance from the lodge. We did get some good shots at the top of the runs but eventually everything would funnel back towards the lodge where the terrain would start to look more like your local ski hill than your typical heli paradise. Eventually we switched to the cat for our last run which was actually one of the better runs of the day as we accessed some terrain that had not yet been skied this year.

the happy camper in the cat

the happy camper in the cat

For those of you that know me, it will come as no surprise that I was less than thrilled with the conditions. Fortunately, I was able to remember that I was incredibly blessed do be doing a trip like this in the first place and it is still a lot of fun to ski with a bunch of folks as dedicated to chasing powder as I am. On every trip like this I meet really nice people whom I exchange snow stories and info with usually in the hot tub or over a delicious meal so I got that going for me. But if you know any weather prayers, please say one for me as I will only be here for four days and sure would like to see what these incredible mountains have to offer.