By Mike McPhee
There is a simple yet addictive feeling to skiing or snowboarding backcountry powder. The weightless feeling and freedom from the normal sensations of gravity seems to get amplified the deeper the snow. The place is a big part of that feeling: mountain tops, dramatic geography, expansive views and perfectly gladed trees. The smell of coniferous forests and clean mountain air stirs the senses further. These sensations and memories linger in the mind long past the trip itself. For many skiers and snowboarders, it is the ultimate life changing experience.
Both heli and snowcat skiing in Canada were born in the Kootenays of British Columbia. In the late 1960s and ‘70s, ski guides and powder enthusiasts realized the possibilities of using these machines to access “the goods” in remote high places. The industry slowly gained steam and an international reputation. Though people often think they need to be an expert skier, the reality is that if you are a strong intermediate skier and can get down a black diamond run at your local hill, you will be able to heli and snowcat ski.
In British Columbia, Mica Heli Skiing north of Revelstoke and Island Lake Lodge near Fernie, have both gained a reputation as two of the world’s best lodge-based ski experiences. Island Lake Lodge became a ski media mecca in the 1990s, with top athletes in the industry becoming shareholders and shooting countless magazine articles and videos. Scot Schmidt and Craig Kelly pioneered big mountain skiing and snowboarding respectively at Island Lake. Mica Heli Skiing, under the same ownership, came on the scene in the early 2000s and quickly gained a reputation for unparalleled ski terrain and lodge experiences.
At Island Lake Lodge, they use modified snowcats to transport guests to the top of each run. The interior of each cat is as comfortable as can be with bucket seats, a stereo system and heated windows to see the views. On the slopes, groups are guided with a lead guide in the front and tail guide in the back. The terrain is varied and encompasses high alpine, big bowls and perfectly gladed trails. Did I mention they get over 13 meters of snow per winter? They have also perfected the lodge side of the experience and are well known for an exceptional and creative culinary program. The four log lodges sit within a valley in the middle of the ski terrain, with dramatic mountain views out the windows, a roaring fire and an exclusive small group atmosphere. The experience is sure to leave skiers and snowboarders wanting more and fully addicted. The Cranbrook airport is just an hour away and handles private jets easily.
At Mica Heliskiing, they welcome you to their luxury lodge that sits cantilevered above the beautiful Kinsbasket Lake. Floor to ceiling windows provide astonishing views along the lake with glaciers and peaks aplenty. A rooftop hot tub is a great ski après to take in the views with a cold beverage. Not to be outdone by their sister company, they too have a creative culinary and wine program. Mica’s ski program uses agile A-Star helicopters, transporting small groups of four skiers at a time. Boasting over 320,000 acres of ski terrain, the run options are literally endless. With storm skiing terrain just a five-minute flight from the lodge, they average only one down day per season, which is unique in the ski industry. The lodge itself accommodates up to 16 skiers and is perfect for an exclusive, and customizable, private experience.
Though the world seems full of unknowns of late and travel is harder, these unique, world-class Canadian experiences are within reach. Perhaps it is time to revisit the bucket list and explore your Canadian backyard. ✈