We stand on the edge of a steep cornice that our two heli-guides have warned us against all day. It is late March, the air is warm and the sky is robin’s egg blue. We are celebrating a milestone birthday—one of us just turned 40—and we are both poised to receive a rare gift.
We are about to rocket down Zorro, a 900-vertical-metre run tucked in the Purcell Mountains near Golden, BC, accessible only by helicopter. One guide has never been down the face from this peak; the other has only tackled it a few times. Zorro, from the summit, can’t even be challenged, let alone conquered, in the depths of winter when the snowpack is unstable and the days are short. Spring is a far different, far friendlier, beast. Our names are called, one by one, as we look over the hulking lip of snow.
Powder sprays with every effortless turn down the steepest run we’ve been on all day. We float and, to be honest, we woot—loudly—the entire way. We have a word for this sensation and say it without blushing: Snow-gasm.
For heli-skiers and snowboarders, late March through May is the best time to track deep powder that’s usually off-limits. And, in Canada’s backcountry, massive snowfalls in the dead of winter can trick vacationers into booking their trips too early. In spring, the sporty set should delay hauling out their golf clubs and instead embrace the chance to ski runs that even the most experienced heli-guides rarely get to rip up.
“Until they see it themselves, skiers find it hard to believe that you can still be powder skiing in the spring,” says Jeff Gertsch, who co-owns Purcell Helicopter Skiing Inc. with his Swiss-born dad, Rudi Gertsch. “More than not, I’ve been getting my best turns at that time of year.”
Founded in 1974, Purcell has dibs on 2,000 sq km of terrain, a three-hour drive west of Calgary. The company has 250 named runs, blanketing expansive alpine bowls, glaciers, valleys and gullies. While La Niña foiled last January’s adventure, we are ecstatic that our once-in-a-lifetime trip was postponed. We lowered the risk while jacking up the intensity—a relief considering one of us has a baby tucked away in the chalet.
Like most adrenaline junkies, we crave untouched champagne powder. In that never-ending seasonal quest, heli-skiing is probably the closest thing to the ultimate whoosh that gives you that juice we all got when we first started skiing. In the end, that was one of the reasons we came; to steal a bit of that juice for ourselves. We had five runs of playing in open powder fields, busting through trees, leaping over snow-draped boulders and rolling through natural half-pipes.
The juice was raging.
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