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Catch a Ride with Pantheon Helisports
Heli Skiing in BCby Jackie Baker
Like any dedicated skier, I have a dream. My dream is to spend more time in remote mountains exploring and skiing big-mountain terrain with a tight group of close friends. Every year I click from website to website searching for the perfect heli skiing experience, and every year my dream is shattered by wallet-withering prices and tour group sizes that heighten the possibility of boarding a heli with a weak link. I’m not a snob, I just want my fantasy week to be, well, dreamy. Enter British Columbia’s Pantheon Helisports, located deep in the Coast Range between Whistler and Bella Coola. This new company is revolutionizing the heli skiing industry with their unique HeliAssist™ program. Pantheon visionary and president, Eric Ringdahl calls HeliAssist “ski touring on steroids,” and it’s not for the faint of heart. For half the price of an average 7-day heli ski trip, you and three of your closest friends can access a half-million acres of ski touring paradise. HeliAssist is a Pantheon creation designed to utilize but not rely on a helicopter. Skiers and snowboarders use a heli just once or twice a day to make a quick morning warm-up lap or to be dropped off within touring range of the day’s mountaineering objective. Either way, your group and your guide will develop a game plan that suits you, whether it’s touring to a delicious-looking face, attempting to summit one of the Coast Range’s tallest peaks, or traversing a ridgeline to catch a glimpse of one of the area’s many mountain goat herds.
You’ll want to brush up your RoShamBo game for this trip.Pantheon requires that participants have advanced backcountry-touring skills. Most people who pay for heli skiing trips are not interested in ski-mountaineering endeavors—that’s why they pay for the helicopter. In addition, the terrain accessed by traditional heli skiing is often limited by the availability of landing zones. “Through HeliAssist, you can go places and do things that you could otherwise only do on a multi-week expedition,” says Ringdahl. “You can access ski mountaineering objectives that are not obtainable when heli skiing.” Instead of returning to a posh lodge each night, HeliAssist participants winter camp in one of four base camp locations. This minimalist approach is designed for backcountry enthusiasts who prefer spending time in the phenomenal Waddington Range pursuing mountaineering ascents with heavenly powder descents. Says Ringdahl, “HeliAssist is expedition-like. It’s not very cushy. It’s snow camping and fairly rustic.” This season marks the first season of Pantheon’s public operation. Though HeliAssist isn’t for everyone, Ringdahl predicts that the desire for this type of adventure will grow. “It is a huge, untapped market. This option is for people who don’t have enough money to go heli skiing for a week but want to experience big mountain lines, solitude, and accomplish bigger mountaineering objectives. HeliAssist is medium cost, high adventure.” Pantheon’s guides are some of the best in the business. The Operations Manager is Erich Schadinger, who has the distinction of being dubbed the world’s most-requested heli guide by Warren Miller.
Bring your board—just make sure it splits.“This is the Utah of BC—the snow is not heavy like Whistler’s, the skiing quality is unmatched,” says Ringdahl. Pantheon has access to a half-million acres of wilderness land, which is protected by the government. Snowmobiles are not allowed, and only Pantheon is allowed to fly. In addition, just one heli operates at a time. Think about that for a second—ski touring with your best friends with no one else (aside from the mountain goats) around for literally hundreds of miles. The Canadian government has agreed not to log the half-million-acre area as long as Pantheon can create jobs and income. It is part of Canada’s attempt to replace extracting industries with tourism. Pantheon has stepped up to become a positive role model for other operations. The area Pantheon flies has the highest-density mountain goat population in Canada, and currently the company is the only entity tracking wildlife in the area, recording any wildlife observed and reporting it each season to the Canadian government. Pilots are instructed to remain at least 2km away from the goats—or any other wildlife spotted. Because of the record keeping, Pantheon knows where the larger populations are and stays away from them—but don’t be surprised if you encounter herds on your tours. If you're like me and you're already calculating the possibilities, check the Pantheon booking schedule. Also check out our sweepstakes, sponsored by Pantheon and Arc'Teryx. We're giving away a Pantheon HeliAssist trip for two, plus head-to-toe Arc'Teryx gear. However you get out there, you owe it to yourself to check out Pantheon.
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