The evolution of heliskiing continues. Smaller operators are offering alternatives to CMH and Mike Wiegele Heli-Skiing. This series will give a brief summary of the operators in the Coast Range of British Columbia Canada.
The Coast Range of British Columbia is home to some of the heliski industry innovators including Northern Escape Heliskiing.. Coastal weather patterns provide copious amounts of powder, and travel is usually MUCH easier than the more famous operators to the East. How do they compete with the big boys and deal with the huge amounts of snowfall?
Glad you asked.
Each of these BC coast range heli-skis destination operators have a strategy, or two, to differentiate their offerings. Today, we take a closer look at Northern Escape Heli-Skiing
Northern Escape says, “It’s Deeper Up Here”, which is true. So to make sure you get the goods, they added a catskiing backup in 2011. NEH also has a unique unlimited vertical option, including more vertical and a very generous credit if you do not make the minimum. Great tree skiing, high alpine and steep.
I have been there a few times. NEH has some great advantages. I can leave out of SFO at lunchtime, and be starting my bar tab at 8PM.
Don’t sweat the weather, cat backup means fresh tracks every day. This is especially important if you are on a 3 or 4-day trip. The lodge, staff, food, and skiing are all great.
GM John has been in the heliski business for over 20 years, including guiding for some of the major players. He summarizes, “We stand out by offering huge terrain, easy access, Unlimited Vertical Option and snowcat backup.”
Call or email me or Jody (866-619-3184) to check availability for a trip to Northern Escape Heli-Skiing. Tell her TJ sent you.
BC Heli Skiing Operators – Going Smaller at Bella Coola Heli Skiing BC
The evolution of British Columbia heli skiing continues. Smaller British Columbia heli skiing operators are offering alternatives to CMH and Mike Wiegele Heli-Skiing. This series will give a brief summary of the operators in the Coast Range of British Columbia Canada, and what they do to earn your business.
The Coast Range of British Columbia is home to some of the British Columbia heli skiing industry innovators: Bella Coola Heliskiing, Northern Escape Heliskiing, TLH Heliskiing, Last Frontier Heliskiing and Skeena Heliskiing. Coastal weather patterns provide copious amounts of powder, and travel is usually MUCH easier than the more famous operators to the East. How do the Coast Range BC heli skiing operators compete with the big boys and deal with the huge amounts of snowfall?
Glad you asked.
Each of these British Columbia heli skiing coast range destination BC heli skiing operators have a strategy, or two, to differentiate their offerings. Today, we take a closer look at Bella Coola Heli-Skiing (BC Heli Skiing, get it?), and their three locations.
Bella Coola Heliskiingbookends your trip with TWO half days. They fly you up from Vancouver in the morning (literally, your round trip flight is included in the price), feed you lunch, conduct your safety briefing, then take you British Columbia heli skiing, right from the airport hangar!
The same is true on your departure day; heliski your way back to the airport, land next to the plane, then fly back to Vancouver in the early afternoon. Tim, British Columbia heli skiing marketing dude, says that people on a 7 night trip actually get the opportunity to ski on 8 days, 6 full days and 2 half days (same format with other durations e.g. 5 nights, has 6 ski days etc). This reduces the damage from a down day. Even if it is dumping pow and there’s 2 down days, guests would still be able to ski on 6 days. It is also a nice way to warm up, with a half day on arrival. Getting to Vancouver the night before has some travel advantages, too.
Bella Coola has three different programs, depending on your group size and your budget, including an EXPERTS ONLY tour for true advanced skiers, a Heli-Assist Ski Touring program as well as a Private British Columbia heli skiing lodge (and helicopter) which can be exclusively for you and 7 friends. All this in the biggest tenure in the Coast Range at 2.64 million acres!
To find out what dates remain for your British Columbia heli skiing Coast Range powder trip,
Call or email tj@HELISKI.com or Tim at BCHS (604.932.3000, tell him tj sent you). 866-HELISKI
Interview with Northern Escape Heli Skiing GM, John Forrest
I recently caught up with John Forrest, General Manager of Canadian Heli-Skiing operator Northern Escape Heli-Skiing in Terrace, BC Canada on behalf of HELISKI.com.. John is also past president of HeliCat Canada, the Canadian heli-skiing & heli-boarding operator industry association. I have skied at Northern Escape Heliskiing a couple of times. Hope you enjoy as much as I did.
We’ll, I’ve been doing this pretty much all my life. I think this may be my 25th year of guiding now…? Anyway, I became a guide while I was still quite young and never looked back. When I was in my early 20’s I started a snowcat skiing company and then moved on to heliskiing where I began managing the operations for a new and growing company. Together with the owner of that company we founded yet another heliskiing company, which I then sold my interests in to start Northern Escape Heli-Skiing. It’s been a long journey, but I’ve loved every moment of it. I guess I also spent a few seasons in there at some of the larger heliskiing and snowcat skiing areas just to round out my experience. I’d like to think that I’ve taken all the great things I’ve learned from all the places I’ve experienced and packaged them together at Northern Escape Heli-Skiing.
2. Yours is the story of the Canadian Heli-Ski Moses, wandering British Columbia until you found the perfect spot. Tell us how you picked this terrain for Northern Escape Heliskiing, please.
Wow, that makes it sound rather biblical… We chose the Terrace area for Northern Escape Heli-Skiing for several very specific reasons. First, it’s renowned for one of the deepest, most reliable snowpacks in the world. Second, the terrain is spectacular with huge alpine and amazing gladed trees. Access was also important, as most people’s time is now more valuable than money. Our guests fly directly here, and it’s one of the easiest destination heliski areas to get to. They usually save at least 1 or 2 days travel time and the associated expense buy skiing/riding with us. Our location also allows us to ski/ride a full day every day, thus our “week” long packages are really 7 full days.
3. What made you decide to start your own heli-skiing Canada operation – Northern Escape Heli Skiing?
It was just a natural path in life for me. It’s something I love and I’m lucky enough to have been able to make a living doing it. I still guide pretty much every day and I love that I can do that.
4. You added catskiing backup at Northern Escape Heliskiing last year. How did that work out?
Yes, the addition of our snowcat back-up program has been very successful. Everyone, including the guides, love the fact that we ski every day. I’ve noticed over the years that our guests now expect more from their heliskiing holiday. Also, with the addition of shorter 3, 4 and 5 day trips, peoples’ time is more valuable. Back in the day, one down day in a week was pretty average and it was a welcome rest day in a seven-day package. Now-a-days, one down day in a three-day package can be very disappointing. Thus the advent of our Snowcat Back-up and ZERO down days! It can actually be some of the best skiing of the week in the cats, as you’re out at the height of the storm when it’s just dumping, and we’re doing lap after lap of steep, gladed trees. The runs average over 1800 vertical feet and there’s everything from steep trees and pillows to more mellow terrain. The guests love it. Also, you’ll find that there are many ways to count a down day and every operator has their own method [True. Some operators do not count a down day, even if you only heliski one run!] But one thing for sure is that if you have enough snow to have a viable heliski area, you must also have some poor weather… and if you have to spend a day or two of your package skiing one or two “poor weather” runs over and over (think bump lines here) due to that poor weather I would question whether you should count those or not? [Also true. Lapping flat terrain near the lodge is not what Canadian heli-ski experience is about, eh?] I guess that’s up to you and the operator…Northern Escape Heli-Skiing is more about quality and not quantity, although we do rack up a lot of vertical each week. With our snowcat back-up, we have a huge amount of terrain available to ski and ride and we find the experience is much better than pushing the weather and skiing/riding one or two runs over and over just to be out in the heli. We found that it also increased our safety margins as we didn’t find ourselves fighting to fly in the poorest of weather just for those skied-out runs. In a week, we generally have six days in the helicopter and one day in the snowcats. That basically gives you a bonus day with us, whether in the heli or snowcat, as many operators “week” packages are only really 6 or at best 6 ½ days anyway. Heliskiing
5. Northern Escape Heli Skiing is one of the only operators flying the Koala helicopter. Why is that?
The Koala is an amazing ship. It’s very fast and that allows us to be able to explore the far reaches of our immense tenure (1.8 million acres). We also fly in A-Star helicopters for smaller private groups and film crews, one of our other specialties, and we occasionally have a Bell 212 or 205 for larger groups that want to all ski together. Our fleet is quite flexible which allows us to tailor a package to each individual groups’ needs.
6. Groups of six are a perfect fit for Northern Escape Heliski trips, eh?
Yes, our Classic Groups in the Koala ski in groups of six and three groups to the machine. It’s a nice manageable size and it’s still quite sociable as well. As mentioned we also have smaller and larger Private groups and film crews depending on their desires. 7. Some operators are not good with calendars. Is a Week really 7 days of heliskiing at Northern Escape? That’s funny! Yes, our weeks at Northern Escape are a full 7 days. Given our easy access, we are able to ski a full day on the last day of the week and this enables us to include more of what you came for, skiing/riding! Basically it gives us at least 1/2 a day more skiing in a week and in many cases a full day more each week. Combine that with our guaranteed skiing everyday and your assured of a great week with us. 8. What is your average vertical in a week? I had to consult our averages in our Operational data base to answer this one honestly… Looking back over the past 7 seasons, we average 24,000 vertical feet per day in the helicopter and last year about 15,000 vertical per day in the snowcats. You’ll have to do the math on that for me. [6*24 + 1*15 = 159K/week!! That’s the kind of math I LOVE to do.]
9. I love the Northern Escape Heliskiing Yellow Cedar Lodge, and just 20 minutes from the airport. Does that make Northern Escape Heli-Skiing the shortest travel time of any Canadian heliski operator?
I believe so, but I haven’t been to every other operation. I do know that our guests love the convenience of our easy access and that it saves them time and money when skiing/riding with us. Book your flights directly to Terrace via Vancouver and sit back and relax. Our lodge has that remote feeling, but it’s just so much easier to get there. [Travel tip: book your Terrace leg as a continuation of your international flight and save big bucks!]
10. How many guests can you accommodate at any one time?
We operate with a max of 18 Classic guests at Yellow Cedar Lodge. 10 Private guests at one of our Private Lodges and 10 film crew at yet another separate lodge. Each would have their one Helicopter or two.
11. What do you do to accommodate heli-snowboarding at Northern Escape Heli-Skiing?
Heliboarding makes up about 25% of our clientele. They love it here. Most of our lines are straight fall line with very little, if any, traversing. Most of our guides, including myself, are also snowboarders so we can choose appropriate terrain. We also often have full groups and even full lodges of snowboarder, but if there are just a few in the week we try to group them together. It makes choosing the appropriate terrain for each group easier and makes the guests happier.
12. Are there any disadvantages to being a small heli-skiing operation?
Economies of scale are more difficult with small operations, but the advantages are also many. It costs us more to do many things that we feel should be part of every package and operation. As an example, we include all the latest safety equipment in each package, that includes the avalanche airbag backpacks. We have a new fleet of custom built Prior skis which are also included in each package.
13. Your slogan is “It’s Deeper Up Here,” sounds like my blog…………. How much snow do you get at Northern Escape Heli Skiing?
I’ve skied a lot of places and I’ve never seen this much snow. It’s not uncommon to see 5 to 7 meters of settled snow at treeline and more than 8 m in the alpine and glaciers. For us as skiers that means a huge base and the more faceshots than you can imagine. Better bring you snorkel!
14. You offer Steep Camp, and you host film crews, so you’ve got the goods?
YES! We generally have film crews with us shooting for 4 to 8 weeks each season. They choose us for our terrain and snow.
15. During one of my visits to Northern Escape Heliskiing, your partner Benny burned my old Marmot one-piece as an offering to the powder gods. That chopper is parked right on that spot! We got a big dump that night, so, it worked! He also gave me a new two-piece suit, which I love. But is he a little nuts?!
Ya, Benny’s awesome! He is truly a driven skier and loves the sport, but he hates one piece suits. And you have to admit that yours was from an aging era gone by, so he probably did you a favor. Besides, you looked awesome in that new Northern Escape Heli-Skiing 2 piece!
Thanks, John. I will see you in January, cause it’s deeper up there!