Rudi and Jeff Gertsch at Purcell Heli-skiing make it easy for first-time heli-skiers to join a group of purebred powderhounds.
JEFF: Remember, there’s a first time for everything. At some point, every experienced heli-skier was a novice, and every season more and more people are trying it for the first time. It’s not an exclusive club, and you won’t be alone as a newbie. If you love skiing or riding, the dream of the heli-and-pow combo is closer to reality than you think. We regret not what we do, but what we don’t do, right?
RUDI: Don’t make it an off-the-couch activity. Although perfect pow skiing feels effortless when you’ve got the flow, being in good shape is key for first-timers. The adrenaline and nerves of a new environment will rev your system, but the conditions may challenge your legs in new ways. Falling in the deep stuff, while soft, can be surprisingly tiring. Make sure you’ve had plenty of days and vertical in whatever conditions are available to you so your fitness isn’t an issue.
JEFF: Trust us: take the fat skis. We know that for those new to deep turns, powder skis (and boards) can look strange, intimidating and surely a liability when you’re trying something new, no? No! They look and behave differently for good reason—they make transitioning to powder easier. Flat and reverse camber, wide shovels, early-rise tips and wide waists all contribute to easier, smoother turns with the necessary float, making equal balance easier and more natural. The equipment doesn’t presume you’ll ski or ride any differently. You just do what you do, and it’ll do what it does—which makes pow skiing as much fun as it should be.
RUDI: Remember the fundamentals—with a twist. Powder skiing is still skiing, and almost all the same basics for success apply: keep your upper body facing down the fall line, hands forward, pole plant, coil and uncoil through the turn and stand up tall over your feet. No need to lean into the back seat to keep those tips from diving. (Remember the fat skis? They got this.) In fact, the only thing that will be different is you’ll have to weight both your skis evenly, instead of pushing against only that downhill ski like you would on hardpack. This is what can take some time to master, but while you’re thinking equal weight, don’t forget the essentials of basic skiing.
GERTSCH’S POWDER TIPS:
Link your turns in rhythm.
Face your upper body down the fall line.
Keep your skis equally weighted.
Don’t sit back! Stay centred over your skis.
JEFF: Don’t look at the trees. It seems obvious, but it really takes effort when you’re new to tree skiing. We see lots of people anxious about avoiding the trees, so they stare right at them—don’t ski into that, don’t ski into that, don’t ski into THAT!—and the magnetic pull gets stronger. Your body will follow your eyes, so keep focusing on where you want to ski. When your visual rhythm is space, space, space, tree skiing will feel smooth and fun.
RUDI: Bring your sense of humour with you. Perhaps most important of all, attitude makes changes faster than aptitude—it’s a huge factor in aptitude itself. Your ability to relax, and have a laugh at yourself if necessary, will significantly improve how fast you adapt to the deep conditions. So relax—the whole point is to have fun!
Since 1974, more than 50,000 people have heli-skied with Swiss Mountain Guide Rudi and son Jeff Gertsch, from type-A experts to intimidated first-timers; their taste of powder freedom and alpine solitude equally unforgettable. Purcell’s 250 named runs on more than 2,000 square kilometres are typical of most heli-skiing, comparable in steepness to a resort’s blue square or single black-diamond runs (just minus the powder). Like most heli-ops, groups are based roughly on ability, so help for neo-powder types is happily dispensed from guides. Purcell’s home base in Golden, B.C., is half an hour from a day off at Kicking Horse or an hour west of Lake Louise.