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It all started with a joke. We had been invited skiing with Julian, the owner of European Snowsport, and Oli, the Commercial director. The plan, as far as we were aware was to meet in the morning, and ski with an off piste guide, before lunch and dinner. Will jokingly sent a text message to Oli the evening before, asking where we were to meet the helicopter, as we have been talking about heli-skiing this season, but had not yet managed it, or was it looking likely. Oli called back straight away, and told us to bring fat skis, and all our avalanche gear. Oh, and a harness. And by the way, the heli was leaving at 0855.
We both finished work that evening and packed all our kit, ABS backpack, with inflatable airbags, which if you are caught in an avalanche float you above the snow; shovel, to dig out fellow skiers if caught in a slide; probe, to find people if buried under the snow and a transceiver, which sends a constant signal out, so if you are buried, others can find you by setting their transceivers to search mode, and look for you. All sounds like quite a lot of kit, and scary prospects, however, you need to know how to use all of it, and yet hope to never need to use it. So, we set off at 0800 down to the helipad in Le Chable, where our Heli Alps heli was dropping off the first group of skiers to another drop off site. Heliskiing in Switzerland is very tightly controlled, and you must have a qualified Mountain Guide with you, and you tend to only do 1 'drop' where you get left on the top of a mountain, and ski all the way to the valley floor. In the US and Canada they tend to do several shorter runs, and several heli drops per day.
Our guide, Francois turned up, and added to the excitement as we discussed options, and routes depending on the snow conditions at the top, and where the other groups were headed. The rough plan was to get dropped at the top of Petit Combin, at about 3,700 metres, and end up in Fionnay, at around 1,400 metres, a skiable descent of over 2,200 metres! As the heli appeared, it all got real! Francois loaded the skis into the rack, and we jumped in, time is money on the heli, so no waiting about, away we went, and the pilot who grew up in the valley did some low passes over tops of mountains, and we hovered around a couple of couloirs as the guide checked the snow coverage and possible lines out.
As we touched down on the top of Petit Combin, the doors open, and all hell breaks loose, the rotor wash blows everything it can up, down and around, and you have to hang onto everything not attached to you, as the blades power up, the noise is deafening, and then, as it disappears over the brow of the mountain, absolute silence. It is the most magical part for me, the silence on the very top of the mountain after all the rush and noise of the heli. Then its on. Skis on, transceivers checked, straps tightened and skirts off. Showtime.
The first descent was pretty wind blown, and not great! But then the further into the glacier and shelter of the peaks you get, the better it gets. We skied for about 20 minutes and then took our skis off again and hiked up a steep and narrow couloir. Reaching the top, and stepping back into our skis, we caught a glimpse of what lay ahead. From the heli we had spotted an untracked couloir into a bowl, about 400 metres of pure descent, before a little break to re-group, followed by another 200 metre descent. Knee deep, untracked powdery snow was all ours for the whole descent. Incredible doesn't really do it justice. And add to the fact you are surrounded by glaciers and giant ice flows and giant rock formations, its all for you! No one else but your group skis that line the whole day. Sorry, just geeking out there!!
As we got onto the glacier itself, Francois warned us to avoid the holes, that are 30 metre crevasses, and the glacial melt rivers that run deep below the glacier itself, that sometimes appear just below the surface in the shallower parts of the glacier.
A short 20 minute hike to the top of another peak, and Francois was there with some fresh bread, local ham and of course, a bottle of wine for Apero. A quick pit stop, and the descent continued, all the way to Fionnay, where a local restaurant had sent their driver to pick us up, and take us to lunch. Where cold beers, and the 'potence' was waiting. Potence is a local speciality, and is basically a hot iron skewer with beef sauteed in brandy, and served with rice and fries. A second round of Deer meat was served, and it was home time. After a little Abricotine digestive of course. All in all, an amazing way to spend a day off, and thanks to ES, and Francois for an amazing trip.
If that tickles your fancy, we can arrange off piste ski lessons, for 3 days, to teach you the technique, and then spend the final day heli skiing with the guide. I guarantee you will never forget it, and the memory will live with you forever. Get in touch with us to arrange your personal day heli skiing.
That's about all for today! Until next time, ski safe,
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