Heli Prep

By Mountain Life magazine

Published November 15, 2016

This season, Sun Peaks Resort is introducing its new HeliCat Warm-Up Camp, a first-of-its-kind program in Canada, designed to help skiers get prepped for that trip of a lifetime.

The two-day camp—created and instructed by CSIA certified instructor, CSGA guide, Bodie Shandro—is the newest addition to Sun Peaks’ renown Off-Piste Camps program.

More than an avalanche awareness course, the HeliCat Warm-up Camp delves deep into the finer points of powder skiing technique in Sun Peaks’ legendary Gil’s terrain.

“It’s all about developing the necessary backcountry skills before your heli or cat skiing trip,” says Shandro. “Avalanche awareness, companion rescue, tree wells and backcountry hazard recognition are invaluable skills to take with you.”

It’s all about developing the necessary backcountry skills before your heli or cat skiing trip,” says Shandro. “Avalanche awareness, companion rescue, tree wells and backcountry hazard recognition are invaluable skills to take with you.

Shandro’s main motivation for creating the camp was to increase retention levels in backcountry education.

“As a heli guide, I see guests coming from all over the world that haven’t skied in a year, or sometimes it’s their very first time,” says Shandro. “And this camp provides guests with the opportunity to arrive at their heli or cat skiing destination better prepared.”

Skier in deep powder
Photo by Adam Stein

Shandro feels that in a more controlled, less distracting environment he can better help skiers work on their powder skills and practice companion rescue.

“There are so many nuances to backcountry, heli and cat skiing and this camp offers a focused environment with less distractions. It’s small groups of four, and I guaranty my guests come out of that course skiing a lot safer. We work with tree wells, terrain traps, and all the types of hazards you can encounter while heli or cat skiing.”

There are so many nuances to backcountry, heli and cat skiing and this camp offers a focused environment with less distractions.

The camp is spit roughly into 1/3 classroom time with video and multimedia presentations, augmented with the remaining time in the backcountry areas around Sun Peaks. The camp also serves to reduce some of the anxiety often associated with a first time cat or heli trip, according to Sun Peaks’ Kyle Taylor.

“One of the major reasons we created this program is to assist those who are heading out on their first heli or cat excursion,” he says. “And to educate those who have a misconception that heli skiing is beyond their realm of ability, which more often than not that’s just not true.

“All you really need to know is your basic fundamentals and have a strong skiing foundation,” Taylor adds. “If you can ski a difficult blue, or an entry level black diamond, you’re well within what’s going to be asked of you when you head out into your first cat or heli experience. And this program allows you to be a lot less ‘fish out of water.’ So when you actually step off the helicopter and onto the snow first the first time, you can really just focus on enjoying the experience.”

“It’s something that benefits every cat and heli operator in Canada,” adds Shandro. “We’re imparting our knowledge as guides with these guests. And in the end, it’s going to enhance their experiences with the cat and heli operation and just make it a much safer and more enjoyable experience for everybody.”

One of the major reasons we created this program is to assist those who are heading out on their first heli or cat excursion,” he says. “And to educate those who have a misconception that heli skiing is beyond their realm of ability, which more often than not that’s just not true.

 

With Sun Peaks’ proximity to some of the choicest heli and cat-skiing destinations in the world, and more guests than ever adding a cat or heli trip to their resort vacations, that’s a good thing.

“A lot of people come to Sun Peaks for a couple days, then go on to Revelstoke or Blue River to get in a cat or a heli,” he says. “So it’s a good warm-up prep course for anyone who’s booked a trip.”

While he’s quick to note the camp is not a substitute for a certified Avalanche Skills Training (AST) course, Shandro does see it as a compliment.

Skiing in the Gil's area
Photo by Sam Egan

“AST is very focused on avalanches,” he says. “It’s all about the evaluator, understanding avalanche formation, triggers and terrain. It does cover companion rescue, but doesn’t really go that extra step into ski technique.”

“A lot of people going on a heli trip for the first time don’t realize there’s a lot of things we do differently when it’s waist deep powder,” he adds. “They come unprepared physically or don’t have the skill set to deal with the incredible powder we have up in the area. So it imparts not only the safety and avalanche skills, but also the skiing skills to keep you out of danger and enjoy your time on the mountain.”

For more information on the HeliCat Warm-up Camp and all the off-piste camps offered by Sun Peaks visit http://www.sunpeaksresort.com/sports-school/off-piste-camps

Top