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2February 2018

Your Best Questions – Answered

By phone, email and online chat, all year we’re here to answer your questions so you can find the best backcountry experience for you, and know what to expect before you get on board.

Here are some of the all-time most popular, and recent great ones:

 

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO HELI-SKI?

This is probably the most common questions we get each year. When are conditions most likely to be ideal?

It’s a fair question, but Mother Nature holds most of the secrets. There are trends, so it depends on what you’re most after.

December and January are typically stormy. New snow is coming regularly, and temps are chilly. This makes for some of the lightest, blower, deepest-skiing snow of the season. The deepest day I ever had on skis was in early December.

These factors also mean we tend to ski predominantly in the glades and trees. Alpine runs happen for sure, but less so, on average.

February and March are the most popular months of the winter, with the fattest snowpack and most terrain variety. Days get longer and warmer, with a higher chance for the big alpine and glacier runs, including tree skiing as well. Late into March the powder stays dry, and the focus turns to north-facing slopes and higher elevation. Winter sticks to those mountains long into May.

Bottom line: we’re ridiculously spoiled with outstanding snow quality 90% of the time. The deepest, low-density tree days often come first, with more time in the alpine as the winter goes on.

Just remember that this is a generalization, and as Rudi likes to say with a wink, the only people who predict the weather are fools and liars…. All of the above can happen within a single week!

 

WHAT DO THE PURCELLS OFFER, OVER OTHER PARTS OF BC, IN TERMS OF TERRAIN?

Dry. Cold. Great variety. The Purcells enjoy some of the higher elevations in the southern interior of BC, and a drier climate than the terrain further to the west. Not so dry that we don’t get heaps of snow (annual average snowfall is 6.5 metres, or 21 feet!), but dry enough that the snow has been famously dubbed ‘champagne powder’ – to be sipped and celebrated.

The higher elevations are important too. When heavy winter storms roll across the province, they often come in with warmer temps – sometimes warm enough to be rain if you’re low enough. With our operating band of elevation from 1500 to 2800 metres, Golden and the Purcells hang on to minus temps while everywhere else might have crossed into rain territory.

Terrain variety means big alpine, vast glaciers, chutes, pillows, glades and trees. You want trees, glades and pillows for deep bad weather skiing, and lots of alpine opportunities for better visibility days.

Some other ranges in the province ‘specialize’ in steep trees or are too low for much alpine – in the Purcells we’re spoilt for choice.

Snow covered mountains in a large panorama, with wispy clouds and blue sky

 

WHAT’S TREE SKIING LIKE FOR SOMEONE PRETTY NEW TO IT?

Just how close together are those trees???

When you haven’t tree skied before, it can be tough to imagine what it’s really going to be like. Are we talking tight slalom, or just trees in the periphery?

Mostly, somewhere in between. There are beautiful glades where you can easily see ten turns ahead as you work your way through tree corridors and sparse forest. And there’s also proper tree skiing, where you can only see a few turns ahead at a time, and you have to adapt your line constantly to the next opening.

The snow in those trees is usually the BEST. THERE. IS. But if you’re new to the trees, you just need to bring along your sense of humour and one rule: Look where you want to go, NOT at the trees!

It won’t feel the same as locking into a ceaseless rhythm on an open slope. It’ll feel like a lot of sensory information is messing with your stride and balance. Embrace it. Keep smiling and look for the next soft turn and the next opening.

 

DO YOU PUT TOGETHER ADVANCED OR EXPERT GROUPS?

Sort of. Doing so ahead of time is tough, since what is ‘expert’ standard to one might not match the standard of another. It’s a fact: a group of honest, forthcoming people might all describe themselves as experts and turn out to spread quite far across a spectrum of ability.

Where words don’t quite do it, the first run says it all. From whatever group matching we’ve attempted prior to take-off, reality on-slope is what’s important to address.

Our program takes the guess work out of the picture by being able to customize the group if there turns out to be a disruptive split – as in, two very different paces not working for those waiting or those under pressure. Adaptability means expert groups can be made on the fly.

 

‘HELI-SKI GUIDE’ SOUNDS LIKE THE BEST JOB ON EARTH. HOW DO I BECOME ONE?

You’re right – shredding deep pow every day is not most people’ reality of going to the office! But heli-ski guides carry a lot of responsibility and need a great deal of training and experience before they can earn their place at the front of the group.

The Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) sets the professional standards for guides of all kinds, whether on rock or snow or trail. Earning a Ski Guide or Mountain Guide certification is a long and arduous path, and teaches all aspects of guiding, from technical skills to decision-making and group management.

 

Check out more behind-the-scenes info to feed your curiosity! Read The DO’s and DONT’s of Heli-Skiing here.

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