Photos by Henrik Windstedt, Ridebrain, Alexander Rydén
Say Kaslo and you will hardly get any attention, but utter the word Stellar Heliskiing and see what happens. Ridebrain went there to see what all the fuzz is about and try some of their world-renowned powder while were at it.
Right between Calgary and Vancouver, in Kootenay Valley, Jason Remple stood looking at the inaccessible peaks in the Purcell and Selkirk mountain ranges. A vision formed then and there in 2005 and the vision was simple. If I can bring people up there - I can deliver the world’s greatest skiing.
Travis Rice - Red Bull Content Pool
Now, 15 years later you can hardly open your social media without seeing the ski- and snowboard pros of the world feasting on the white gold of Stellar Heliskiing. One of them is Travis Rice. Last year the snowboarder extraordinaire shocked the world (once again) with a pillow-line so long only the lactic acid from that single run was enough too destroyed the whole Kenyan marathon team.
"A vision formed then and there - Deliver the world’s greatest skiing"
Another legendary rider who chooses Stellar heliskiing is former freeride world champion Henrik Windstedt. If you haven’t lived under a rock the last years you’ve seen his paradigm-shifting follow-cam videos. Shot at Stellar.
– Why I keep going back to Stellar is because it holds everything. One minute you think you’re in the alps with high alpine terrain and everything that goes into that. Just to find yourself in the world’s greatest forest skiing the next.
In the late 19 century, people came here in quest of a different kind of gold. Mining gold brought people here and soon thereafter, silver. After the quest for ore’s, Kaslo's fortunes faded and it wasn’t until 1959 it was re-incorporated as a village.
These days, the 960 people big town take little notice of the world’s best riders pilgrimaging here each year to take part in the 18 meters of snow that falls yearly.
Getting dropped off left all alone. A quite remarkable feeling
Heliskiing - a hot potato
With the environment in focus, heli-skiing is debated. Considered the ultimate experience when it comes to powder skiing. Being lift up again and again, having as much of an experience flying up as skiing down. Accessing snow that you otherwise only see on the screen is hard beaten.
On the other hand, it is an extraordinary luxury only a select few have the means, time or experience to try on.
Naysayers mean that flying a gas-driven machine up among the mountains for the single purpose of your amusement is bizarre.
Right or wrong we leave unsaid. But it’s hard to get as many vertical meters in a day or reaching the same peaks without it.
18 meters average
The Purcell and Selkirk mountain ranges are a subrange of the Columbia Mountains. They stretch approximately 3,500 meters a.s.l. and receive an average of 18 meter of snow each year.
The mountains are called the Kootenay Rockies and named the birthplace for catskiing and heliskiing.
Jason Remple had worked as a ski guide for 12 years when he got tenure approval from the Province of British Columbia in 2005. With his wife Kerry Luckey they started off as a two man operation with Kerry making the lunches and running radio dispatch while Jason was out developing runs and landings when he was not skiing with groups.
"Poodeling” means to check the avalanche conditions, which comes from the time when they back in the days used poodles to run on the snow to see if the layers were solid or not."
Stellar Heliskiing is for intermediate and expert skiers looking for the best skiing possible in the world. If the conditions allow you can ski 4,600m to 6,700 meters of vertical per day.
They supplies each guest with an avalanche airbag pack, containing a shovel, probe, and radio that must be worn by guests on each run.
Also In addition, each guest is provided with a digital transceiver and are trained in its use.
Diary from Stellar Heliskiing
“It was quite foggy when we left with the helicopters the first day and went east to the Purcells area filled with open fields and pillow lines. We didn’t know what to expect. Except we’ve heard that it sometimes can be too much snow. The area produces about 18 meters of snow each season, and last night it had been a big reset with 15 cm of fresh snow at the mountain. The amazing thing though, is that no matter if it’s been snowing or not, there will always be untracked runs in this area since Stellar Heliski is the only company that operates on these mountains.
Luckily on the way over to Parcells we had a sweet spot in the clouds so that we could land at the altitude of 2500 meters. After the drop, we noticed the total silence. It was amazing to be there in so much untouched snow looking out at the mighty mountains. I have to admit that my heart started to beat really fast at that moment, although I felt very safe together with our skilled guides.
"I have to admit that my heart started to beat really fast at that moment"
We had a quite steep line in front of us and Jason took the lead and did a brief of where we could go and where not to. After the brief, he went away ”poodeling”. ”Poodeling” means to check the avalanche conditions, which comes from the time when they back in the days used poodles to run on the snow to see if the layers were solid or not.
Then it was time to drop in. The snow was amazing, and we skied trough playful lines with cliffs, open fields, and tight threes. The runs seemed endless as we weightless made our way down.
Then we did it again..”
A regular day at Stellar heliskiing
“You wake up at Kaslo hotel moments before 8 o´clock. The breakfast area is across the street where you get greeting by the nicest woman in the world who remembers your name even though you’ve hardly met.
I often ate fried eggs while we talked about the day that lies ahead of us.
The official meeting time is at 8:15 at the Stellar office. From there there is a quick van-ride top the hangar. Quickly gather your stuff, walkie talkie, beacon, probe and avalanche backpack. Put on your ski boots and put your skis in the helicopter.
Jason and c:o have been up long before that and checked the snow conditions and wind directions. Based on their experience and last nights whether they have a plan which area to fly to. They have 80.000 hectares to play around with so the risk of skiing in tracks is slim to none.
You’re put in groups of four plus a guide and the pilot and fly out.
You have time for 5-6 lifts before lunch. Each run is long enough you have to pause to save your legs and keep the group together. If you find a run specifically good - you put a flag there to easier find your way back.
With your legs and lungs put to the test you stop for lunch. They get sandwiches, broth, vegetables and dig a hole in the snow. You’re in the middle of the wilderness alone with your sandwich and buddies while the helicopter goes back for more gas. After lunch, you do 6-7 more lifts before flying back to the hangar, leave your ski gear and hop on the van back to Kaslo hotel. That’s where all the locals hang and you have a few beers and some snacks. Quite spent after a full day skiing you either go straight to bed, the jacuzzi or out to eat massive ribs. Go to bed, repeat.”
The feeling when you have 237 football fields of powder. All to yourself
Flight from Europe to Calgary: €500 Rental car Calgary - Kaslo (one week): €400 Heliskiing Unlimited: 2000CAD/day
Founded: 2005 Web:Stellar Heliskiing Snowfall yearly: 18 meter Skiing: 4,600m to 6,700 meters of vertical per day Located: 10 hour drive from Calgary Closest airport: Cranbrook Providence: British Columbia