No, not that kind. I’m talking about the kind you use at the bottom of a heliski run when the helicopter is coming in to pick you up.
The pickup can feel like a stressful part of the day, especially for first time heliskiers, but it doesn’t need to be. After a couple of laps, getting ready for the helicopter is easier and less stressful than getting ready for a gondola. Here are 7 tips that will make your heliski pickups a casual, fun, safe experience.
1. Do what your guide directs you to do. This is the most important thing. Slow down and pay attention to your guide. Sometimes the helicopter is waiting and sometimes it’s not. Many different scenarios can unfold at the pickup, but they are all really easy for you as long as you are attentive you your guide.
2. As you approach the pickup, change your skiing or riding style from sport mode to careful transportation mode. The pickup is not the place to express your independence. Many pickups in CMH terrain are just above the deep hole formed by a river drainage or cliff. If you make even one extra turn past the pickup, you can find yourself wallowing in chest deep snow for long, exhausting minutes just to gain a few feet to reach the pickup - or worse.
3. Take care of your skis and poles or snowboard first. Sometimes it is important to get ready quickly, and sometimes there is lots of extra time. In either case, do first things first: take off your skis, bundle them with your poles like the guide instructs, and put them into the stack with the other skis. Snowboarders should fold down highback bindings and place them where the guide directs in a position where they can’t slide away. Once your skis and poles or board are ready, you can clean your goggles, loosen your boots, take pictures and relax knowing you’ll be ready whenever the ski lift shows up.
4. Stay with your group. If the guide stops short of the pickup, you must do the same. Sometimes when the helicopter is refueling, or making long flights into a new valley, the different ski groups end up waiting together at a landing. Suddenly there are several guides in florescent jackets and it’s easy to get confused about which group is yours and accidentally race to joint the wrong group. Slow down. It’s easy.
5. If the guide skis right onto the landing pad, do the same. Ski slowly and carefully near the other skiers, but don’t take off your skis too far from the pickup as you’ll end up sinking in the deep snow. Where the helicopter lands, the snow is often packed hard enough to make for relatively easy walking.
6. If you need help, ask for it. Bundling your skis and poles together is easy, but can be an awkward project while wearing gloves and breathing hard. There will likely be some really experienced heliskiers in your group as well as the guide. Ask for help once or twice and it will all become really simple.
7. Watch the helicopter. When the helicopter comes in to land, crouch where the guide directs, and watch the helicopter approach. You are already wearing goggles or glasses, so the blowing snow will not bother your eyes. Put your hand over your mouth and nose. It is intimidating the first few times, and wind from the rotors is strong, but it is a spectacular event and you’ll get used to it.
The helicopter is the most exciting ski lift in the world - and it will wait for you. Take it easy, do what your guide says, and enjoy your time around the powerful machines. You’ll enjoy the visuals of the whirling snow, get front row views of the accurate flying of Alpine pilots, and quickly get in tune with the logistics of the entire CMH heliski operation.