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The Crack of Skiing

“Why are you so obsessed with helicopter skiing?” asked David Goodman, one of our contributing editors, from his house in Waterbury, Vermont. “I find spending $4,000 on a week of skiing offensive.”

There was stammering from my end of the phone on the other side of the country, then a long silence. Every response I tried sounded irrational, compulsive, emotional—not the logical, coherent justification for spending $4,000 on a week of skiing that David was looking for. All I could do was sputter and point to the thousands of turns I’d had in the steepest and deepest and lightest snow, as if the experience could somehow defend itself.

But David wasn’t buying that kind of reasoning, primarily because he’d never actually skied snow that deep. Sure, he’d skied powder—spent a lifetime searching for it—but he’d never stumbled into one of these transcendent days where every run is a bottomless elevator shaft full of the softest, most gentle feathers of snow. He’d never really gasped for air as wave after wave of white washed over him or known the fearless rush of launching into a staircase of powder pillows.

In that regard, David is probably like most skiers. Powder is difficult to find anyway, but the kind of bottomless powder I’m talking about may only happen once a year at a given resort, if then. More likely is a foot here, two feet there, three feet if your karma’s good. On those big days, you’ll score—if you know the mountain and if you don’t have to work and if you’re up early. But, for the truly deep stuff, you have to go into the backcountry, and to do that safely ad quickly, the best tool is a helicopter.

David’s main argument against helicopters is the cost, which, I’ll admit seems high compared to a week of resort skiing. Hell, it doesn’t seem high, it is high. Helicopters are expensive machines, requiring expensive pilots with expensive training. Backcountry lodges aren’t cheap to build, either, and the cost of liability insurance is through the roof.

My argument, though, is that helicopter skiing is the ultimate experience you can have on skis (or one of them, anyway) and thus you have to compare it to ultimate experiences in other sports. What would it cost for a week of scuba diving in the Seychelles? Surfing in Fiji? Mountaineering in Nepal? Probably all in the $3,000 to $4,000 range, if not more.

Is it worth it? Only you can decide. As for me, I like to think about a guy I heli-skied with a few years ago in British Columbia, an accountant from Arizona who’d put a little aside out of every paycheck for five years so he could pay for a week of heli-skiing. During the week we’d had some good runs, some bad runs, and a handful of epic runs. On the last day, I asked him if he’d do it again. He just threw back his head and laughed. It seemed like the best answer in the world.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 21.3, November 1992. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

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