no small feat.
Outside of military combat helicopter aviation, heliskiing is one of the more demanding segments of helicopter aviation. The demands on the pilot and the helicopter with frequent take-off and landings, is greater than with other
During a given day a helicopter pilot (flying three groups) could make 20 take-offs and landings per group in a given day (20 + 20 = 40 X 3 = 120 X 6.5 = 780). If the pilot is working for a “helicopter skiing vacation package” operation where they might fly 6.5 days (for that “weeks” package), the pilot could be doing upwards of 780+ take-off and landings per week. On top of these demands, there is the flying in a mountain environment with weather and altitude issues. In Canada heliski operations often fly during snowstorms until the visibility is less than half a mile. Thick fog and rain is the major enemy of a successful day of flying heliskiers.
After once having taken a helicopter intro class where I actually got to fly a small helicopter, I came away with a greater and deeper respect for all the helicopter pilots I have ever flown with. Most of them are humble folks that really enjoy the flying as much as we enjoy the skiing.
Classic Heli-ski / Hidden Treasure Alpine Guides
Intro by Halsted Morris
Looking back on the early history of helicopter skiing, there are a number of operations that started, but did not last long. Check-out the list of heliski operations on the “Heliskiing Numbers” section of this website. There were 26 on the operations list in 1983, and 12 of them have since gone out of business. I’m sure there were others that started in the 90’s that have since gone out of business. I’m still researching some of these.
One operation that I had never heard of is Classic Heli-Ski which operated in the Oquirrh Mountains west of Salt Lake City, Utah, in the mid-90’s. Steve Stahl happened to see this website and decided to submit the following essay. I had never heard of this incident until Steve sent this email and photos. None of my ski patrol, snow safety and heliskiing buddies had ever heard about it. This is a colorful story that will amaze many!
Classic Heli-ski / Hidden Treasure Alpine Guides
A Short history
by Steve Stahl, RN, CFRN
The name started out as Hidden Treasure Alpine Guides, but a partner backed out so we called it Classic Heli-Ski. I was the principal and one of three guides. We did avalanche studies for two years in the Oquirrh Mountains west of Salt Lake City using ground snow machines and helicopters, then were in business for two years. It was great because it was all private land and no permits were required. We had permission from the Kennecott Mining Company who owns a large swath of land up there.
I was a ski-patroller in Keystone, Breckenridge, Park City, Deer Valley and Porter Heights in New Zealand, and had a lot of experience with control work and blasting. I was hired to come do the studies and guide. In February of our second year we were across the basin with a group of clients, about 12 of us total. The pilot had lifted and we were to ski on an eastern aspect.
The pilot, very experienced in fire, heli-ski, and stunt flying decided to go push a cornice that we had looked at earlier in the week. His intention was to push the collective and break the cornice, then fly away. We watched as he landed on the cornice, his skid became stuck in the cornice, the cornice gave way, then the helo went over backwards with the cornice under him. The helo landed below where the cornice was and ripped out a large hard slab. We watched as he rode out the slide inside the ship, watched the chin bubbles pop out, the tail boom came apart from the fuselage, and the rotors tore off. The ship disappeared in the slide, then surfaced, then disappeared, then resurfaced as it came to rest about 1300 vertical feet from where it started. When it came to rest on it's side, the pilot was able to crawl out from the side door, just barely over the surface of the snow. I had been in communication with the pilot and he was ok. I skied down to him, leaving my other guide on the top of the basin with clients. What started out as a shitty day turned even worse when the other guide was skiing clients down and one of them blew his knee out. We had a toboggan stashed and had to have it retrieved by another helo in SLC in order to evacuate the injured skier.
The next day a storm came in with major winds and we were unable to fly. Once the storm was over we went back up to assess the damage and see what it would take to recover the helo. I decided that there was too much hang-fire going into the site where the helo was. I had to set up a trunk line of 2 lb explosives, 30# in all. When it went off the entire basin slid. The picture you see of the avalanche was taken then. We buried the downed helo another 10 feet or so, but the area was safe to dig out. About 10 of us flew in to the site and spent 2 days digging out the downed helo. It was then slung out.
Later that summer I was working on a helitack crew in Jackson, WY with the same pilot. He told me that he had had a dream about where some things he lost in the slide were. He wanted me to fly into the site so we could look for the keys to his Mercedes and his sunglasses. I thought there would be absolutely no chance of him finding these two miniscule things but we had a couple of days off so I went with him. We landed and he pointed to a little pine tree. He told me that his keys were hanging in that tree. We hiked up, and sure as shit there they were. He said his Serengeti sunglasses were just 75 feet above there wedged uphill of a rock. We hiked up there and there were his sunglasses.
Needless to say, Classic Heli-Ski ceased to exist after that. But it was quite a
Cool story eh?
Photo credits: Steve Stahl