Interview by Tom Jackson, HELISKI.com
1. Is it true that heli-skiing started in the Purcell Mountains?
Yes – the birthplace of heli-skiing was only 50 km south of our operation, in the Bugaboo range of the Purcells. Golden and the surrounding area boasts an impressive legacy in mountain guiding and heli-skiing. This year we’re celebrating 100 years of adventure tourism in Golden. Heli-skiing has been part of that since the 60′s.
2. Purcell Heli-Skiing has been around for 35 years! 50,000 people have heliskied with you – that’s amazing! What has changed since you started?
In fact, 2012 will be our 38th year in operation, all under the same ownership and leadership. We’ve certainly seen a lot of smiling faces over the years. The technology has changed the most. From the beacons, the skis and the helicopter itself, the tools we use to do the job have evolved substantially, and I’m sure will continue to evolve.
Consumer choice, too, has expanded. There are so many different ways to enjoy heli-skiing now, with different group sizes, customized programs, in-lodge week-long trips or daily tours. Guests want to learn more about being in the mountains, be more involved. Education and insider information really adds to the experience – it’s a great change to see.
3. What has remained the same?
That’s easy – our outlook. From day one, it’s been about the guest experience. That has meant starting small, staying small, and devoting ourselves to quality customer service, even as standards and expectations have fallen elsewhere. It’s not just chasing vertical records here; we want to give our guests an adventure they’ll remember forever. We pay attention to people, and it’s a satisfying job to help people’s dreams come true!
When in Golden, Do Drop In
Yes, and it’s really a perfect combination. Kicking Horse attracts all kinds of skiers and riders, but it’s definitely known as a mountain with lots of advanced terrain to offer. The big vertical and powder stashes in the chutes are a great warm-up for heli-skiing. A day in the heli is the icing on the cake, and a must-do for many international travelers ticking off the Canada bucket list.
5. What one-day packages do you offer?
As part of the Classic program, guests can choose between a 3 or 5-run package. We ski as a group of 10 with 2 guides in a 205 helicopter. The Classic combines unforgettable adventure and superior value, making it a great choice all around.
The Semi-Private is another single-day program, where a group of 5 or more friends share the cost of all 10 seats in the 205 helicopter. It’s a chance to hand-pick your fellow heli-skiers and riders to match everyone to the same pace and ability.
Finally, the Private Program can be done for a single day and provides the ultimate small-group experience. With room for up to 4 guests, everyone rides in a private A-Star helicopter with their private guide. [Schwing! and Cha Ching!]
No matter what program you choose, we create a welcoming environment for you to feel comfortable and enjoy everything that heli-skiing has to offer – untouched terrain, incredible snow, and breathtaking views. All programs include a full safety briefing, safety equipment, packed lunch, après-ski platter and souvenir pins and stickers.
6. What does it cost to buy extra runs?
Extra runs are sold at $85 per person per run. If guests choose to upgrade straight from 3 to 5 runs, we simply charge the difference in the package rates.
Thank you Sir, May I Have Another?!
7. How about multi-day packages?
Flexibility is the name of the game here. Guests may select our Classic, Semi-Private or Private program, or any mix of the three, and book any number of days, consecutive or with breaks in between. Then you just multiply the daily rate by the number of days you’d like to heli-ski.
8. HELISKI.com and HeliskiingReview.com have sent many satisfied clients to Purcell. Thank you! What percentage of your guests are repeat offenders?
It seems like more every year. We often warn first-time guests that heli-skiing is a very addictive sport! Although we see plenty of new faces each year, a good third of our business comes from repeats. Our guests really like the convenience of access Purcell provides, plus the personal touch that makes a small, family-owned business hard to beat.
9. I spent a week in Golden one night. What do your clients do on ‘down days’?
The beauty of our setup is down days don’t keep guests trapped in a remote lodge, with only board games, napping or beer to fill the day (not to knock beer, of course). Because our operation is right in Golden, guests can have access to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, which is typically in great shape if the weather is too heavy for flying. You never have to worry you’ll miss a day of skiing.
He did, yes. Rudi was part of the earliest seasons at CMH Bugaboos, when heli-skiing was brand new. When he was ready to start an operation of his own, he and other early operators saw the potential for promotion through cooperation. In 1978, the British Columbia Helicopter and Snowcat Skiing Operators Association (later renamed HeliCat Canada) [wonder why BCHASSOA never caught on....] was formed to define safety standards and operational guidelines. British Columbia has since become a leading destination of heli-skiing, recognized worldwide.
11. The Purcells are famous for light, dry snow. Can you compare and contrast with some of the other famous mountain ranges like Selkirks, Monashees, Cariboo and Coast?
Within the Interior ranges, you generally see a deeper snowpack as you trend from East to West, from the Rockies to the Monashees. With increased precip. comes more moisture and more overcast days, too. The Purcells fall right in the middle, or even East of middle. Our snowpack isn’t often as deep as what the Monashees may have, but our geography brings us drier conditions and more sunny days. That keeps our snow light and fast – that notorious Champagne Powder.
The Coast ranges are a different beast altogether, and have incredible skiing too. What you don’t see as often on the Coast is the nice dry, fluffy conditions we get here. The snow quality in the Interior is hard to beat, and explains the high density of heli-ski, cat-ski, and other backcountry operators.
12. How many of your guests are heli-boarding?
Probably about 25% are riders, but they’re 100% welcome.
13. When does the Purcell Heli-Skiing season open and close?
The actual open and close dates change each year, as we get underway and shut down according to client interest. Anywhere from December 1 to May 1 is good to go. People are often surprised that we still heli-ski into April, but some of the best days we can remember have happened in the spring. We still have killer snow to enjoy, so don’t take out your golf clubs/bike/kayak too early!
14. Do you offer deals to groups?
If you’re a group of 6 to 10 people, we offer a percent discount based on the number of participants. So a group of 6 gets 6% off, a group of 7 gets 7% off, and so on. With a group of 10, you can choose between 10% off for everyone, or a free seat for the group leader. For some larger groups, one person does all the organization, so there’s an option for that person to get a free trip.
15. Anything else you would like to add about Purcell Heli-Skiing?
It’s a simple formula that has persisted all these years: love what you do, do it well, share it with others. Experience is what matters – ours and yours. Let it snow!
Call if you want to learn more or book your trip!
CPO (Chief Powder Officer)