1January 2018

How I Scored a Chance to Heli-Ski (And how it changed my life)

My first day skiing was out of a helicopter, in perfect, knee-deep, untracked powder.

First day. First time skiing.

I’ll let that land for a moment. When I (Katie) tell this story in person, there’s usually a stunned pause.

Why? How? When? Or… with a smirk, I hate you.

I know.

A little over 10 years ago, after finishing school, I emerged from my cozy world of books needing a job (the philosophy job offers weren’t rolling in like you’d expect) and ready to jump into something completely different for a while.

By a twist of fate and a friend connection, I got a job working indoor services at a remote heli-ski lodge north of Golden.

I didn’t grow up skiing in Ontario (not at all), but a proper Canadian winter in the mountains sounded better than the dreary English one I had just left, so sign me up!

The first weeks were like learning a new language. “Stoked to shred some natty pillow lines?” Uhhh….. yes? The slang was fun but there was so much else to learn – about the clientele, the operations, what we were selling and how many moving parts came together to pull it off.

I didn’t expect to participate. I was happy just to be around for all the awesomeness, bartending, folding laundry, carrying luggage, and listening to the stories all evening long.

Then, the three-pack arrived.

You see, the operation was set up to run only groups of four. People didn’t cancel, and seats weren’t left empty. A rare injury or a rest day was the only opportunity for any of the indoor staff to go out skiing, and every other staff member was way ahead of me on the list, since of course, they could, unlike me, actually ski.

But this group was different. A father and his two teenage daughters, and he’d booked out all four seats so they could have the group to themselves. They weren’t hot shots, just out there to have quality time together, enjoying the mountains and all the snow.

I was putting away dishes when two other staff came to talk to me. I was told, “This is it for you. This is your chance.” They weren’t fast. There was a seat empty. They were gracious enough to invite me to try.

It was still a crazy idea. I DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO SKI.

But I also didn’t know what to expect, including what to be afraid of. They said the falls are soft. I wanted to be as cool as all these adventurous people I’d met here. There was very little time to think about it. Suddenly I found my mouth saying the words “okay, let’s do it”.

My colleagues rallied around to outfit me, probably doubting the idea was much as I was.

I probably looked like this. But with more stomach-churning fear.

Then we took off.

And it was AWESOME. It was also messy, ridiculous, decidedly UN-photo-worthy, and slow (fall, fall, fall, kind-of turn?). Our guide had the patience of a saint. The girls crashed too. Nobody was in any hurry. We laughed. They cheered me on.

There was SO MUCH snow. Everything was so vast.

The feeling, the adrenaline, the freedom, the wildness, was indescribable. I had never imagined such a moment. I instantly ‘got’ why heli-skiing can change people’s lives.

And while my exposure to the sport is unique (and never fails to get an outstanding reaction from people), the effect it has on your psyche is almost universal.

Just yesterday, a guy was telling me his story of the first day heli-skiing, after snowboarding his whole life, and summed it up like so many do: “It was the most amazing day of my life. Nothing could have prepared me for that feeling.”

I agree. And though I’ve learned to ski, and properly heli-ski, since, I’ll never forget that first day.

Just a few weeks after my day one of skiing/heli-skiing, Jeff showed up at our lodge for a fill-in shift. I watched him step out of the helicopter, all windswept and handsome, like something out of a movie.

I tried to pretend I was an actual skier, since hey, I HAD gone heli-skiing, right? He figured out my real story soon enough.

A few weeks later, we were planning a surf trip to Costa Rica, and shortly after that, a lifetime together.

And the rest is history.

Purcell Heli-Skiing co-owner and operator Jeff Gertsch

Jeff and Katie Gertsch are the veteran and the wide-eyed wonder of Purcell, and would love to meet you this winter. Send us a note and tell us your story, and how you want to add to it.


Still feel new to the world of heli-skiing yourself? Check this out:

5 Things Most People Don’t Know About Heli-Skiing





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