Mike Wiegele Heliskiing, Feb. 8-9, 2007

Tony Crocker

Staff member
This has been an outstanding season here --- until this week.

Weather has been similar to Chatter Creek, but warmer the past 3 days or so. Thus there is a crust up to about 5,500 feet in most locations. Since there is overcast and fog the alpine is off-limits and skiing is in what I've heard before called a "Whistler sandwich" of elevation.

The fog has restricted flying time, and the people who have been here all week say that every day has had a late start or early finish. Today started on time ~8:30AM, but the fog thickened around 1PM and they brought us in for the day at lunch. I estimate about 11K of skiing in our 8 runs, in the ballpark with a full day of cat skiing. I skied 6 days here last season and none of them were shortened, so I believe it's just an unlucky weather pattern.

We flew north and west into the Cariboos and were dropped around timberline at 6,500 feet. It snowed lightly but steadily all day, similar to last Sunday at Chatter. The first 4 runs started with about 500 vertical of good powder, gradually getting heavier over the next 500, and then a few hundred of wet and/or crusty stuff to the pickup. For the next 3 runs we went deeper into the Cariboos (must have had colder weather), and these runs had nice powder from top to bottom even though elevation range was similar. But the pilot was worried each run that he would get stuck out there in the deteriorating weather, and our guide had to lobby hard to get us those 3 runs. We had one more run in the original area on the way back in before lunch.

The ongoing new snow should result in good conditions for tomorrow. But what we really need is for the fog to let up so we can go higher into the alpine.

The good news from a consumer's perspective is that there are even fewer people at Wiegele than last year. I believe that with the proliferation of cat and heli operators in Canada you can usually get in here for 2,3,4 days by booking 3 weeks ahead like I did. It's still about $1,250CDN/day, but you don't have to do a whole week like 15-20 years ago. Personally, I think my arrangement this year of 4 days cat and 2 days heli is ideal.

For those who want to shave cost a bit, reserved skiing only is $950CDN. You'll have to get a motel here in Blue River plus breakfasts and dinners. Since I'm by myself it's not that much more to enjoy the luxurious amenities here, but for those sharing lodging you could save some. The standby heliskiing is only $550, but it really means standby. You find out whether you're going maybe the night before. Sun Peaks and Jasper/Marmot are the only ski resorts where you're close enough (still 2+ hours away) to use this arrangement, and thus have something to do if you don't get in here.
\:D/ \:D/ \:D/ \:D/ \:D/
Sometimes you can get lucky. it was generally overcast but the clouds were high and we got into the Cariboo alpine by 9AM. We had 10 runs before a 1PM lunch while the heli was refueling. Snow was very nice, temps were comfortable (I'd guess around 20F) and there was absolutely no wind.

It snowed during lunch and the 3 afternoon runs, but still no wind and there was about 3km of visibility. Our last run in the trees had rolling terrain and dropoffs, which some of you more acrobatic types might have enjoyed airing. The clouds were lowering some, so we came in at 3PM. There were 3 groups sharing the 212 helicopter and since we were the first group out :D we were the first group to come home also. I estimate 23K, though I'll get an official number from one of the guides and my estimate yesterday (11K) was low (actual 13.4K).

This was very comparable to my two previous best days of heliskiing at TLH in March 1998. It will join those on the short list (now 16 days) of vertical + powder vertical >40K.
The official count on Friday was 27,600, a record heliski day for me and my second highest vertical + powder day lifetime. The 2 days at TLH in 1998 had more varied runs due to more settled snow and no weather constraints, but I've had 18 heli days now and really appreciated this one after having several quite restricted by either weather or snow conditions. It was no surprise that Wiegele racked up the vertical Friday since the previous days in the week had been limited.








The photos look really nice.

Have you been to CMH operations? I know Wiegele has a really great reputation.

I've always been interested in this one
http://www.canadianmountainholidays.com ... burns_ski/

My experience with heli-skiing is with RK near Panorama - which was great -- 2" at Panorama translated to 12" in the RK terrain. Even with low clouds - the flew us to pretty good terrain.

However, I wrote this before - I went to Alyeska - and I was less than impressed with Chugach Powder Guides. I was there for 4 days and they only flew 1 of the 4 - Late March. The weather was typical Northwest cloudy...2-4" new everyday but they did not fly. To be honest, I was only in for 1 day of heli skiing - the rate was about $700. But still, we did not ski until the last day. However, the day we did ski - it was 4 of us (local Anchorage guy, British oil guy and my brother and I). They quickly got us on some great chutes and some steep stuff. Me likey. Powder quality was good, but not great. This was my delayed Internet celebration. However, it almost did not happen. It was getting up 8am and checking out Chugach and then waiting till 10am till Alyeska opens.

My brother has skied with Telluride Helitrax for free...they give him a free trip....as a PR move, so he can talk it up. I've never been. Unfortunately, I'm not sure about it. My brother is not ovely impressed with it. When $1k gets involved I think about new skis or Arcteryx gear I could buy. Also, I like just skiing the backcountry in Bear Creek in Telluride. Or maybe Silverton.
Interesting you should mention Chugach Powder Guides. Adam and I have 2 days reserved March 24-25. We are standby some other days.

As I mentioned in the Chatter comments, I have become somewhat paranoid about weather and like to have both alpine and trees available. Wiegele has an abundance of both. Logically Wiegele's policy of 3 groups of 10 with 2 guides per chopper should be better than CMH's of 4 groups of 11 with 1 guide. Wiegele is slightly (<5%) more expensive than a remote CMH lodge but does not charge for extra vertical. And from my perspective Wiegele's location in Blue River allowed me to come in for just a couple of days instead of a whole week.

There's a 4-day package deal offered in Telluride that includes one day with Helitrax, one day Silverton, one day cat skiing with San Juan or El Diablo (I forget which) for something like $1600. 4th day I think is guided at Telluride with some backcountry if it's safe.

My day at RK in 1999 had fantastic light dry powder. It was a bit slow as they cater to daytrippers from Banff, but the last 2 runs (out of 6) were as good as I've had anywhere.
looks amazing! some day i'll try it....

do the guides check the snowpack before every run or do they generally know the conditions in the area you are skiing and just trust their instincts?
I don't recall seeing them dig pits last year, but we were in the trees all week. Wiegele has 2 remote weather stations and extensive temperature/snowpack charts in the guide building. The two pics below the pit dig pic are from that same area. From the drop point we skied along a ridge to reach the intermediate pitched fall line shown. The bowl was much steeper dropping skier's left from the heli drop point, but they thought that was a terrain trap and too risky with the current snowpack.

I think those long and steep alpine shots you see in the movies are fairly rare. Usually you need "settled powder" snow to ski those. That means several days after a storm with no wind to screw up the snow surface. That's what I had in New Zealand last August and also with TLH in 1998. The last 2 runs with RK in 1999 had steep sections with deeper snow (about 6 inches new/day over the past 3 days). Perhaps the latter situation was even more rare with the underlying snowpack being strong enough that they considered the new snow to be safe. I do remember the guide triggering a slough on one of the other runs that day.

You are most likely to get the combination of steep and deep in the trees (except in Alaska's maritime snowpack). Nonetheless there is tremendous appeal in those big vertical high alpine runs. One more reason to choose someone with good access to both types of terrain.