Alpine adventure: Heli-Skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, B.C.

My skis sliced through the snow as effortlessly as a knife cuts through butter. The pillowy soft powder I’d disturbed swirled up behind me, catching the sun rays and creating a cloud of sparkles that tracked my trail down the mountain. The only sound over my laboured breathing was the snow crunching underfoot as I carved rainbow patterns into the hill, and the occasional whoop of delight echoing in the distance as another skier tore down the untouched slope. There was no denying it: heli-skiing was absolutely magical.

Heli-skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC, Canada

The setting for this bucket list-worthy adventure was the towering Purcell Mountains in British Columbia, Canada. The range is one of the best places in the world for such excursions, as it’s the birthplace of heli-skiing, has some of the highest elevations and can see chest-deep snow drifts. There are a handful of operators in the area including RK Heliski, which has been expertly guiding tours from their base in Panorama for half a century, building up a loyal clientele from as far as Australia, Japan, Germany and Switzerland over the years.

RELATED: Adrenaline-filled adventures at Panorama Resort in British Columbia

Heli-skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC, Canada

Earlier that morning, our group had arrived at the heli plex and tucked into a hearty breakfast while general manager and seasoned ski guide Graham Holt shared some insight into what we’d be experiencing that day, along with helpful tips about what to bring along and wear (hint: not as many layers as you might think). Before we knew it, we were bundling up to head outside for an excellent lesson on avalanche safety, which included learning how to use our beacons and transceivers in the unlikely event of a slide.

We were then split into two groups of eight, with one crew hopping into the Bell 212 helicopter to soar off towards the Guardsmen Group of the Purcells, while our group hopped in a van to meet the chopper at a different location. Our excitement built as we stood with our feet anchored firmly in the snow drifts surrounding the landing pad, as the whirring noise made by the helicopter’s blades got closer and closer. It touched down a few feet in front of us, causing the snow to swirl up and around us like a cyclone of snowflakes. We piled into the bird, and just seconds later we were airborne, heading straight for the towering glacial peaks.

Heli-skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC, Canada Heli-skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC, Canada

It didn’t take long for us to touch down on the south side of the Jumbo glacier, and we huddled together to shield our faces from the blowing snow as the helicopter sped away. It disappeared over the ice-capped horizon leaving us alone with the mountain, none of us uttering a word as we quietly took in the awe-inspiring scene. The untouched terrain was all ours.

Heli-skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC, Canada Heli-skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC, Canada

Graham was the first to break the silence, instructing us to grab our equipment out of the bundle of skis, snowboards, poles and backpacks the second guide Scott had unloaded from the chopper. As we settled into our bindings, he explained that gliding through deep powder is a much different experience than navigating a groomed ski hill, and as such it was important to “keep the booty up!” and stop for breaks when we needed them. It’s safe to say that at that moment, none of us realized what a workout we were in for.Heli-skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC, Canada Heli-skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC, Canada

Heli-skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC, CanadaThat first run was glorious. Graham expertly swished through the virgin powder, the trail behind him marked by perfect half circles for us to mimic. Though there were nearly a dozen of us speeding down the slope, I felt like I had the mountain to myself. The landscape was so spectacular that it was all I could do to tear myself away from the sight, cognizant that I also needed to keep an eye on the terrain in the event a rogue boulder decided to make a sudden appearance. Occasionally I would stop to catch my breath, and take the opportunity to thank my lucky stars that I was getting to enjoy such an incredible experience.

Heli-skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC, Canada Heli-skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC, Canada

The rest of the day followed a similar pattern: ski from an elevation of nearly 3000 metres, hop into the helicopter waiting at the bottom, be whisked off to a different run such as Millennium or Sundae Cirque, snap on our skis, then do it all over again. We managed to get in four full runs, and despite my quads screaming at me from exertion I didn’t want to stop.

Heli-skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC, Canada

Hours later, our alpine adventure wrapped up with a hearty lunch right on the mountain, which I devoured while flopped into the side of a snowbank, exhaustion finally setting in. When it was time to get back into the helicopter for our final flight back to the base, I took a wistful last look back at the craggy mountain peaks, curved bowls and bluebird sky, as a large grin spread across my face. I’d conquered my first day of heli-skiing—and couldn’t wait to do it again.

Heli-skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC, Canada Heli-skiing with RK Heliski in Panorama, BC, Canada

IF YOU GO:

When to go: The heli-skiing season runs from December through April

Cost: A day of heli-skiing costs about $850 per person for three runs, and includes equipment rentals, snacks and lunch. Each additional runs costs about $100.

Getting there: The RK Heliski base is just a couple minute’s drive from Panorama Mountain Resort. They also offer transfers from Cranbrook, Banff and the Calgary Airport—including by helicopter for those with deep pockets who are short on time.

Fun fact: RK Heliski also offers heli-hockey packages, where they fly guests up to the top of a mountain to play on a frozen rink. How Canadian is that?!

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Winter wellness: The perfect girls’ getaway in Invermere, British Columbia

Fabulous Fernie: A where-to guide for the scenic mountain town

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Alberta’s best ski resorts

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Globe Guide heli-skiied as a guest of RK. Heliski. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.

 

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26 Responses

  1. Eppie says:

    Absolutely love the way you write! So happy to find another storyteller! Your description of this experience is great, makes me want to get some skis on!

  2. Rand says:

    Fantastic story. You got to live the dream: the perfect run, through untracked powder, with no one but your friends around. It sounds like a fantastic adventure.

  3. Jenna says:

    Heli-skiing has always been something I’ve wanted to try! I think I need to brush up on my ski skills first, but it sounds like such a cool experience! The scenery looks gorgeous. The idea of heli-hockey sounds pretty fun too! 🙂

  4. Suze says:

    I’d love to try heli-skiing and your photos capture the experience beautifully. What I’m curious to know is what level do you need to be? Is it all black slopes up there? I can cope with a red but I’m not keen on the tough black slopes 😉

    • I usually prefer blue runs myself as I like to go straight and fast, and don’t enjoy hazards like trees and rocks. Essentially you need to be able to conquer a black diamond run to go heli-skiing.

  5. Wow, that does look amazing! I can’t ski so I don’t think it’s for me – but it’s one of the first things I’ve seen that has made me think I’d like to be able to do so!

  6. Annie says:

    Wow, what a dream. Those pictures of the peaks are absolutely ethereal. Finding fresh untouched powder is such a treat, sounds like the perfect reason to go heli-skiing, especially in BC if it looks like that!

  7. jennifer brooks says:

    I dreamed of heliskiing for 10 years. I was disappointed with my day with RK last month. I felt rushed all day, didn’t have time to stop and enjoy the thrill or take pictures. My group spent the whole day in one area so we didn’t get to see the magnificent views of the mountain range, nowhere to have a “personal moment” all day, 2 rides on a shuttle van… it’s expensive and the company didn’t deliver the perfect experience I thought they had promised 🙁

  8. Oh wow! I don’t ski but the landscape looks so spectacular it makes me want to take up skiing right away! I’d have been happy just standing there taking photos and videos. I guess there’s no chance for the helicopter to come back and do a pickup at the top as well as at the bottom, right? 😉 Incidentally, I’d be taking a ride on a helicopter too, in about 6 hours time, although it would be just a tour of the city of Kuala Lumpur rather than snow-covered mountains. (Not complaining but still… *sigh*)

  9. Penny Sadler says:

    wow wow wow! now this looks like an adventure. what a landscape! love your narrative too. I don’t ski anymore but this makes me wish I could give it a try.

  10. Omg, this looks like such a fun adventure! The landscape looks so beautiful, I can imagine it was difficult to keep your eyes on the terrain like you said. I think it’s really cool that they offer heli-hockey packages too!

  11. Wow, stunning video and post! You really captured the beauty and adventure of Panorama. Definitely adding it to my travel list, thanks for sharing 🙂

  12. Javier says:

    It looks really Awesome post! Thanks for the share.

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