Although you spend a lot of time on your heli-ski trips with a few guides, there is one guide that you may never ski with. This guide, even though he or she may never ski with your group, has a job that affects you more than you might think.
The snow safety guide plays a huge role in the safety, and smooth running, at each of our heli-ski areas. Mike Welch, area manager of Galena, gave me some insight as to what the snow safety guide might do to make our day out in the mountains better.
Snow Safety- Digging snow pits, checking stability, and explosives control are all part of the snow safety guides day. They might be doing all of the above on runs that are going to be skied later that day, or ensuring more consistent stability for later in the season. Once a run has been deemed safe, the snow safety guide may also check for snow quality. We all know how a thick sun crust can kill a great run, the snow safety guide will relay information back to the lead guide so their group can successfully avoid any poor snow conditions.
Helicopter Safety- We love skiing in deep snow, so what happens if it snows a couple of feet overnight and the landings are no longer accessible? This is where the snow safety guide may quickly become your best friend… They might be out early in the morning digging out landings, replacing landing flags, or clearing brush all so that your pilot can land safely and you can start skiing.
Refueling- When it comes time to refuel, the helicopter will often head to one of our remote fuel caches to avoid the long flight back to the lodge. Generally at the lodge, the helicopter engineer will refuel and avoid the need to turn off the engines, saving you a lot of time. Because our remote fuel caches are so remote, it often becomes the job of the snow safety guide to meet your helicopter at the fuel cache so that refueling happens quickly and efficiently.
Finding the perfect lunch spot- Did you ever wonder how that amazing lunch gets set up in the middle of nowhere? Although the guides may often have an idea of where a good lunch spot would be, the snow safety guide will pinpoint a spot where there is maximum sun, minimal wind, and you aren’t sinking up to your chin in snow. Lunch is one time where deep snow isn’t optimal conditions!Balancing the groups- What happens when you or someone in your group gets tired and starts slowing down your group? Often, the snow safety guide will be called in so that the faster parts of the group can do a lap while the slower group members take a break or slow down their pace. This keeps everyone skiing, and everyone happy!