We caught up with Darryn Schewchuck, GM of Mica Heli Guides (aka Mica Heliskiing) as the summer is turning to fall in the Canadian Rockies. He is still riding his dirt bikes, but looking forward to another great winter of light, deep snow.
Here are Mica Heli Guides 15 Questions with HELISKI.com.
1. Hey Darryn, Mica Heliskiing has been recognized in the press recently. Tell us about that, please.
Recently we were rated “Best Heliskiing” in BC Canada by the editors and writers of SKIING Magazine in their 2011 Resort Guide. Ski Canada rated our powder “second to none” in their “best of” issue last fall, and Good Connoisseur Magazine rated Mica Heli Guides “the best once in a lifetime experience”. These recognitions are based on several factors, 2 groups of 4 per heli, max 16 guests, dry champagne powder and incredible terrain found in the BC Rockies.
2. You seem to have more options than most operators. The Classic is three groups of 4. The Premium is two groups of four and two helicopters?!?
Definitely the option to ski more vertical! At MICA our standard program is called a Premium Tour – 4 groups of 4 guests serviced by 2 A-Star helicopters (2 groups of 4 per heli, similar to what is referred to as a semi-private with other operations). 30 of our 36 tours this season are Premium tours. The other 6 tours are a combination of a Private Tour (4 guests with their own private A-Star) and our Classic Tour (3 groups of 4 sharing one A-Star). Maximum capacity at MICA is 16 only guests.
3. Some packages are unlimited vertical and others have extra vertical charges, right?
Correct, our December and early Jan tours are unlimited vertical (no extra vert charges) and we also offer some vertical incentives for April tours which cover most of our guests vertical. All season we guarantee 4500 meters/day. At MICA we have averaged only 1.5 no-fly days per season over the last 8 seasons, for the odd day we can’t fly we go Catskiing (Cat vert is not counted in the 4500m/day). [Nice!]
4. How did you come up with such a cool spot for your lodge?
The position of the lodge is very spectacular indeed! Our hot-tubs have one of the best views in the world. The main purpose of the lodge position was elevation. We wanted to get above the low cloud, fog and freezing rain found lower in the valley which is what hinders flight for many other operators. The other benefit is that we ski right down to the lodge at the end of the day, and can Catski right from the lodge.
5. Catskiing backup is getting more popular. How often do you use it at Mica Heliskiing?
MICA was the first to start using the Cat for backup four seasons ago. We had the cat from our sister operation Island Lake Catskiing for snow removal around the lodges, so we put it to good use. We typically take guests Catskiing one or two full days per year. Additionally a few times each season we will do a cat run or two in the morning, the weather will break and we go heliskiing for most of the day. The forest directly above MICA lodge has been gladed providing excellent 2500 vertical foot tree skiing right to the lodge. So its quick and easy to rack up some pretty good vertical Catskiing at MICA. We don’t count the Catskiing vert in the package and it is very rare for a guest to not make minimum vertical on a tour at MICA.
6. Mica even has a backup outdoor hot tub! Did you think of everything?!?
When you are a remote backcountry lodge you need to have a backup for everything. For the last eight seasons, we’ve been compiling the guest comments and work hard to improve all aspects of our program dramatically each season. We have created something very special a MICA.
7. The Monashees have been made famous by CMH Heliskiing. I have skied the Adamants, Selkirks and Cariboos, all somewhat nearby. How would you compare your terrain?
Mica’s terrain is the western slope of the BC Rockies across the lake from the Monashees and Selkirks. We have a lot of steep tree skiing (similar to CMH Monashees) but the Rockies are visually more spectacular like the Alps. We ski a lot of trees, have the world’s best pillow lines and have big alpine terrain. MICA’s terrain is very diverse; we have something for every taste.
8. Guests fly into Kelowna. Tell us about the trip to the lodge.
We pick up in Kelowna and drive to Revelstoke (2 hours). At the office in Revelstoke we sign the waivers and get lunch for the trip north to Mica Creek (1.5 hours). From there it’s a quick 10 minute flight up to the lodge. We also have direct flight options from Kelowna (1.5 hours) or Revelstoke directly to Mica Lodge (45 mins).
9. Do you have many guests stopping in Revelstoke to ski/ride for a few days to warm up for heliskiing with Mica?
Yes, we have quite a few guests who ski Revelstok Mountain Resort (RMR) for a pre-MICA warm up. We will cover their lift tickets and usually I will ski with them to show them “the goods” at RMR. It’s a tough part of the job but someone has to do it.
10. What are the biggest challenges of operating a boutique heliskiing lodge for only 16 guests?
The biggest challenge is getting new people seats in our high season, most sell out 10 months in advance!
11. You have a lot of ‘lifers’ coming back every season, right?
Yes, the majority of guests are regulars who bring groups each year and rebook their spot for the following year upon departure.
12. Love your old tagline. Is it really “Deeper at Mica?
The majority of our guests will tell you MICA has the deepest powder they have ever skied. There are places on the coast with a deeper snowpack, but coastal snow is not the same as the interior’s cold smoke. MICA tends to be slightly cooler in temperature than the Selkirks and Monashees, which is why we have the super dry “Champagne Powder” that everyone raves about. Like Utah, but deeper!
13. Is it true Mica Heli-Skiing is almost booked solid for 2012.
Jan 14 to April 3 is 95% sold, only a few seats left. The good news is that Dec and early Jan are when we get some of our deepest skiing. And April is fantastic. Longer days and more sun opens up a lot of the really big alpine runs that we don’t get to in early season. Shoulder season is excellent skiing, and we have some great vertical incentives as well.
14. How will you fit in FAM trips for HeliskiingReview.com?
I guess I will have to give you my seat…or not…we will talk. [Damn!]
15. Do you ever abbreviate your title to Director of S&M?
Yes, but only on the last weekend of the month
Thanks, Darryn. I hope I can get up there to experience Mica Heli Guides soon.
Expert Advice – Knowledge is Powder