Eagle Pass Heli Ski, BC: January 25, 2022

ChrisC

Well-known member
We were supposed to ski Whitewater on January 24th and then head to Revelstoke. However, given the lack of recent snow- and stories about how Fernie got rain the week before and Red Mountain was only skiing OK - we decided to skip it. I had previously skied Whitewater on a powder day, so I was not itching for a visit. And we had 3 definite heli/cat days coming up, so no need to push it for a few ski hours.

It did snow a couple of inches overnight, so we decided to take our time on the road from Nelson to Revelstoke. This is definitely one of the most beautiful mountain drives in North America. So remote with incredible vertical rises. Included a free ferry crossing.

Waiting for Ferry
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Ferry Ride
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In Revelstoke, we were greeted by impressive in-town snow. There was a couple of feet on the ground and 5-10 ft snowbanks were common. December and January had been kind to Northern BC.

The next day was Eagle Pass Heli Ski. We were lucky to arrive early and get one of the owners/lead guide Scott. That meant we were able to fly from the base and get extra runs. It was quite spectacular to break through the inversion layer into the sunshine on the heli. Also, the snow quality was much better than in southern BC - more snow, colder temps, and higher elevations.

My brother and I had previously skied with Eagle Pass on a very snowy (8-12") day. We were surprised they flew. Mostly skied trees in a southern zone. This time we skied in the Alpine in two zones: 1. Crazy Creek and 2. Bews. Crazy Creek was first up and faced mostly south. Bews faced primarily east. The runs in the Bews zone were significantly longer and we spent the majority of our day there. FYI - Bews is due east of Mustang. We could not go into the glacier zone/alpine since it got wind hammered in earlier storms a week ago.


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Some shots from our early runs in the Crazy Creek zone:

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About 11:30 am our group moved to the Bews Zone. Heli-skiing moves a lot faster than cat skiing obvisouly.

Eagle Pass had a funny protocol about pickups. We would be in a vague area of a pickup zone and the heli would come down on top of us. There were a couple of occasions where we had to scramble out of its way to avoid being roadkill. In deep snow....scrambling was a bit scary.

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To be continued due to file limitations.
 

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Bews Zone Photos

Our Lunch Spot - marked by chopper lifting in food. Typically it is too cold to eat on ridgelines in January, but today is in the upper 20s due to inversion.

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Our runs in the Bews Zone. Hard to get action shots due to the fast pace .... and our fast guide.

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We did one run in the Crazy Creek zone on the way home.

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The heli had to look for a break in the inversion to drop through to base so we circled a bit

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We got 10 runs due to being with Scott who had to scope the terrain. And we were a fast group without major incidents.

Some runs in the Bews zone went into some tight trees - with gullies, cliffs, etc. It was a little tricky navigating through these challenges.

Overall, highly recommend Eagle Pass. Great snow, terrain, guides - and they did not really seem to care how many runs/vertical. It was over a 15k vertical day. Also, the key to achieving this is small compatible fast groups (4 skiers). The heli operations that use the 8-12 seat helis - good luck getting 5-6 runs because you are going to likely have a very slow skier in your group.

We were just having as much fun and skiing between 9 to 330pm.
 

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Are you sure you only skied 15K vertical? My day at Eagle Pass in 2009 was 12 runs and 23.5K.

I forgot to turn on my Ski Tracks app (no maps or data), so it's just a conservative estimate of 1.5k per run, but likely it was more. I'd like to have known our highest drop point.

The Bews zone runs often had a big alpine expanse followed by a substantial tree zone - likely 2k per run. So the day was likely near +/- 20k. This was only possible because we were skiing with an owner/lead guide. So we got to explore early, got constant first descents, and last run pickup.

The guide Scott was almost a bit annoyed with me because I would stop for a photo or two - and I was a bit more precise/slow when trees got cliffy. He did not really give advice -or regroup- more like just follow my tracks. Possibly I cost our group a run?! :)
 
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I think it's clear that a best estimate is 20K, based on both your description and my actual average per run.
 
The guide Scott was almost a bit annoyed with me because I would stop for a photo or two - and I was a bit more precise/slow when trees got cliffy. He did not really give advice -or regroup- more like just follow my tracks. Possibly I cost our group a run?!
I always wonder how guides react when they have a mixed-skill-level group (I know that they try to avoid that) or when, as you mention, someone wants to stop now and then for pix.
 
Most guides are good at sizing up their groups. But terrain has to be chosen to accommodate the weakest skier in the group. It takes a very gung-ho group to be critical of picture taking. OTOH I try to choose my spots for pics. The best opportunities for action shots are in open terrain where the guides send you one at a time for safety protocol.
 
I always wonder how guides react when they have a mixed-skill-level group (I know that they try to avoid that) or when, as you mention, someone wants to stop now and then for pix.

Most guides are very understanding regarding photos and video. They know you have spent some money $ and want to remember this. I have seen skiers play with drones (in Alaska) so it follows the skier/group down the hill. Also, there are a lot of skiers who want to drop cliffs and film them. In Valdez Alaska, we were on extreme steeps and wanted to film.

Guides are working for tips so generally they take some clues from the group.

Scott was a bit unique: "Guys just follow my tracks - see you at the bottom!" A bit rogue. But he trusted us after a run or two and just wanted to ski, and us to maximize runs/vertical. Most of the group just followed, but I stopped once in a while. Josh at Valhalla could be a bit similar on some runs: "Stay with your buddy. Look for big trees, there is more space. Good luck - see you at the bottom!" What? This truly the excpetion - but it can be hard to regroup in certain tree areas.



Most time you get a bit screwed in day cat and heli operations if you are an expert skier since you are dealing with a mixed group. A cat can hold almost 12 plus guides and a Bell Heli can hold 10 plus guides. Inevitably, someone overestimates their ability.

This is mediated in 2 ways: 1. Terrain. The runs are simply easy as not to tax anyone. No steeps, chutes, trees - just basic intermediate powder on relatively open areas. 2. Speed. You are just going to go slow - perhaps very slow - with lots of stops.

If all else fails, you get stuck with the cat driver. Like this one:
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Sometimes even the best get tired - and will sit a run out. Cold, tiredness, altitude, jet lag, etc. Heli operations could ferry you to a pickup location.

But sometimes you are just SOL and have to sit out. For example, on our K3 day .... a cat with 10 skiers ... one guy from Toronto tore/injured his ACL on run #2. He sat on the cat for the entire day. Fun!

An example of a high-volume heli operation is RK Heliski - which despite being located near Panorama BC ski area - heavily markets to Banff. This was my first heliski experience in 2002. Look at the packages https://www.rkheliski.com/plan-your-trip/choosing-heliskiing-package
Let's just say hard-core experts are going to be disappointed with their 3-run skiers. RK will do additional runs for additional $$ that are more difficult for those that want to continue.

Big Red Cats does a nice job of allowing skiers to sign up for different level groups. https://www.bigredcatskiing.com/the-experience/levels
I now have done two expert groups with them and the days have gone well. I don't really do big jumps anymore - too much potential downside/risk. Too old/want to prevent injuries. Maybe in the 5-10 ft range with a super soft landing. But I let guides know my comfort level with mandatory jumps.

For most multi-day snowcat or heli trips - the groups self-select.

For day heli and longer trips, we have specifically screened operations that ski in groups of four. Eagle is only groups of four. Selkirk-Tangiers has one 4 person heli. Black Ops in Valdez is generally 4 - but allowed 3 of us with a tail guide on our 2nd year. Purcell heli might have been 6.
 
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An update: Eagle Pass is now charging $2290 CAD + GST for a single day. That is 50% higher than my skiing winter in 2022 and 100% higher than in 2017.

While a great operation that strives to get as many runs as possible in - that is a very high price. Especially when leading cat operations are less than this and include all meals and lodging. You can even do CMH Revelstoke for a 3 or 4 days package for less than this.
 
That's a huge price. I think Mustang is up to $2K CAD/day for the small groups trips (6 instead of 12 skiers) but less for full cat groups and that includes meals and lodging (though not the heli trip in/out, booze, etc...).
 
That's a huge price. I think Mustang is up to $2K CAD/day for the small groups trips (6 instead of 12 skiers) but less for full cat groups and that includes meals and lodging (though not the heli trip in/out, booze, etc...).

Yeah, they are pricing themselves out of the market. It's no longer a good value. At $1300CA or $1600CA in prior years - ok. And some of the day cat operations have followed suit. (Only Big Red Cats, RK Heli, CMH Purcell Heli are still day operations).

You can ski for a week (7 days) in Alaska for $8000 all-in at either Points North in Cordova or Valdez Heli Guides in Valdez. Valdez heli is a good deal since it includes airfare from Anchorage to Valdez, locates in a new hotel (gym/pool) in Valdez (good for down days), transportation to helipad, and is the operator for the famed Tsaina Lodge on Thompson Pass. This location is on the more northern side of the Chugach which we have not skied as much / can have slightly better weather.

Anyways, BC is not looking as likely as a target destination. Might be Val d'Isere for a week in late Jan/early Feb with Chamonix add-on weekend, and/or look into Alaska potential for April.
 
I agree 100% with ChrisC, and voting with my wallet I have had one heliski day in Canada since I discovered Mustang in 2010, and that was to introduce Liz to it at Purcell in 2013. And she liked the cat day at Wild Horse a week later better.

The list of lodge cat operators that can be efficient and get you much more than 10K vertical per day is short and of course topped by Mustang. Though their lodge is not in the ski terrain, White Grizzly is extremely expert oriented (nearly all steep and in the trees) and has two tail guides per group to help with organization/keeping track of people. When conditions are good top to bottom you can ski a lot with Island Lake due to their road and run design freedom being on private land. Monashee Powder Snowcats, formerly operated by the current Mustang owners, is probably a good bet too. Realistically I'm probably unlikely to get there as Island Lake looks like a good fit for my remaining years of cat skiing.

As for heli Alaska is unique for the steeps and stable snowpack to ski it. Iceland is not cheap but it's also unique and I recommend Arctic Heli highly in the context of an overall tourist trip to Iceland. And the best time of late April/early May is different from most ski destinations.
 
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