"Blue-suiters who have 'been there, done that' tend to stand at the edge of the huddle and pay little attention to the helicopter."
We all know it – helicopter ski access is a mind-bending combination of ease and excitement: Powerful machines emerging from billowing snow clouds created by the rotor wash. Goggled and Gore-texed figures chased by their own snow plumes as the helicopter thunders overhead. Following a mountain guide into the best powder stashes in some of the world’s snowiest mountains. It’s so good we sometimes forget that we are part of the system, just as important as the guide or the pilot in keeping everyone safe out there. Sure, our responsibilities as skiers are fewer than those of the guide or pilot, but the result of not taking our few responsibilities seriously can be just as catastrophic. I had a conversation with Alex Holliday, the Safety Manager for Alpine Helicopters, and he clearly sees three big things skiers need to do better when heli-skiing:
Improvement Number One: “Off the top of my head, I’d say the biggest thing is people not paying attention to what's going on with the helicopter. I guess the skiing is just so good that it’s distracting.”
The Solution: Change gears from skiing to transportation when you get anywhere near the helicopter. You don’t run into a moving bus or ski straight into a moving gondola either.
Improvement Number Two: “Definitely the seat belts. The rushed entry and exit from the noisy machine leaves little attention for the seatbelt. Often folks don't take the time to ensure the belt is straight and done-up properly. A poorly installed belt does little good when needed. There was a group of skiers at the Monashees in '97 who can attest to the value of a properly done up belt. The ski-footage penalty of taking one's time during loading and unloading is zero and you risk everything with a poorly worn belt.”
The Solution: Help others fit their seatbelts. With big jackets and gloves it can be hard to see there is half a meter of extra slack in the belt. Help those around you get their belts on right. Helping them could save your life.
Improvement number three: “Probably the huddle. The huddle should be tight and low. Blue-suiters (skiers in their unmistakable million-foot suits) who have 'been there, done that' tend to stand at the edge of the huddle and pay little attention to the helicopter. Perhaps we could admonish them to set a GOOD example for the new folks by being down on one knee and watching the helicopter as it approaches and lands. The door person needs to take the lead in ensuring a good huddle.”
The Solution: Take the helicopter seriously. If you do, everyone will have more fun.
Helicopter pilots and guides take every opportunity to improve, become safer at what they do, and politely help those around them to improve as well. As skiers, we should do the same.