A few years back, one of my dear friends kept a promise to herself: She was going heli-skiing. She was on the verge of 40 and it would be a birthday present to herself.
And what kind of friend would I be if I let her go heli-skiing on her 40th alone? I signed up, happy to pretend it was about celebrating her milestone rather than living out my childhood fantasy, too.
She picked Purcell Heli-Skiing in Golden, B.C., because it is the kind of operation where people like us – middle-aged members of the middle class with carbon-intensive dreams – can get a taste of the absurd concept of flying in a helicopter to go snowboarding. At the time, a day trip there cost about the same as a week at an all-inclusive resort in Cabos, which is easy math for those of us who had posters of Powder 8s on our walls as kids.
Purcell – then owned by the Gertsch family, now hosted by the same crew but controlled by heli-adventure giant Canadian Mountain Holidays – is entry-level luxury. CMH Purcell does not have a fancy-schmancy backcountry lodge with steam showers and decadent meals. It is for day-trippers – and those who want to extend the stripped-down experience to two or three days. A day at CMH Purcell is more expensive now – equivalent to an all-inclusive sunny vacation at a nice resort – but the groups are now capped at six, giving guests the potential for more turns.
Neither my friend nor I were bothered that Purcell lacked morning yoga classes and evening wine tastings. Purcell’s no-frills operation is still pretty frilly: You fly. In a helicopter. To go skiing.
There was a moment, right before the first run of the day, when everything was quiet. The chopper had peeled away and the handful of skiers and snowboarders in our group stood silent at the top of a mountain. We looked around, stunned by our aloneness. We were the only inhabitants on a planet of endless mountains. The sky itself was a birthday gift: perfectly blue.
Purcell dished up a dreamy buffet for snow snobs: We snowboarded down open powder fields and through narrow trees. We tooled around in gullies. The brave cruised over natural features that sent them skyward; the cautious skied around the jumps. We cut ribbons through the silky snow all afternoon.
At lunch, the guides hauled out tea, sandwiches and treats, and we ate on the top of the world. The day wrapped at Purcell’s lodge, with a crackling fire, après-ski nibbles and cans of Kokanee. We giddily reminisced with new friends about the time we all went heli-skiing – and dreamed of doing it again.
If you go
Golden, B.C., is 260 kilometres west of Calgary, on Highway 1. Check the road report before driving. Arrive in Golden at least one day before heli-skiing, in case the highways are closed for avalanche control or construction. Spend a day or three warming up your legs at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.
CMH Purcell is not an all-inclusive heli-ski experience. One-day trips start at $1,949 a person, and can be booked through cmhheli.com/our-lodges/purcell. Guests must provide their own accommodations. Options in Golden include a hostel downtown, motels and hotels on the highway, condos at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, and high-end chalets in the woods. Tourism Golden’s website offers an extensive listing of accommodations: tourismgolden.com/accommodations.
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