Wilderness on a Platter: Last Frontier Heliskiing Serves up Massive Slices of Northern BC Terrain

Last Frontier Heliskiing is well-named. It really is a “frontier” in the definitive sense of the word, which is “the extreme limit of settled land beyond which lies wilderness” (according to the Oxford Dictionary of English). With a staggering 2.5-million-acre (10,100 km²) tenure in the Skeena and Coast Mountain ranges of northern BC near the Alaskan border, Last Frontier gives skiers and boarders access to wilderness that might as well be infinite.

 

REUBEN KRABBE PHOTO / COURTESY LAST FRONTIER HELISKIING

 

REUBEN KRABBE PHOTO / COURTESY LAST FRONTIER HELISKIING

Even if you return every year, you’ll never have to ski the same line twice.

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Before skiers and boarders lusted for untapped lines here, mining companies lusted for untapped copper. In the 1960s and early ‘70s, copper mining was in full swing in the Granduc Mine near the frontier town of Stewart and a Swiss-born mountain guide named Herb Bleuer was in charge of avalanche control work for the operation. A pioneering backcountry skier, Bleuer spent his downtime exploring the region’s untracked slopes. Later, he became a certified guide, avalanche safety instructor and examiner for the training programs of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides.

 

DAVE SILVER PHOTO / COURTESY LAST FRONTIER HELISKIING

 

 

JUN YANAGISAWA PHOTO / COURTESY LAST FRONTIER HELISKIING

 

In the early 1990s Bleuer steered Last Frontier Heliskiing founders George Rosset, Franz Fux, Mike Watling and Geoff Strait to a place he knew boasted some of the choicest terrain in the world. Here, the old-growth tree skiing, sprawling glaciers and high but skiable alpine stretched on and on—there was more skiing here than Bleuer could manage in 10 lifetimes. He knew snow well, and he knew the snow here was fathomless. And he knew where and how to access all this bounty.

 

On the lonely Stewart-Cassiar Highway, completed in 1975 between Prince Rupert and Dease Lake, Bell 2 was a tiny refuelling stop on the long haul to Yukon and Alaska, unremarkable apart from the mountain scenery that’s in no shortage hereabouts. And it might have stayed that way if not for its proximity to the Skeena stashes explored by Herb Bleuer. A lodge already existed here—pretty much the only building around, the original Bell 2 Lodge was built in 1979 for highway travellers. In 1997, Last Frontier bought it and undertook an ambitious rebuilding and expansion project stretching over six years to create a leading-edge heliski facility

 

Bell 2 Lodge. DAVE SILVER PHOTO / COURTESY LAST FRONTIER HELISKIING

 

Bell 2 Lodge interior. DAVE SILVER PHOTO / COURTESY LAST FRONTIER HELISKIING

 

In 2005 Last Frontier Heliskiing expanded to take advantage of the southern section of its tenure and opened Ripley Creek Inn in Stewart on the Portland Canal, opposite Hyder, Alaska. Suddenly, the middle of nowhere—where only truckers, miners and loggers passed through—was one of the world’s most sought-after heli destinations.

 

Ripley Creek Inn. STEVE ROSSET PHOTO COURTESY LAST FRONTIER HELISKIING

 

Ripley Creek Inn. STEVE ROSSET PHOTO COURTESY LAST FRONTIER HELISKIING

 

 

Last Frontier Heliskiing is so huge that it offers a distinct advantage few competitors can muster. That is, if weather and snow stability don’t cooperate, and the alpine is temporarily out of bounds, fear not—you won’t have to lose at poker in the lodge. You can drop into a profusion of protected tree-line runs where you’ll swiftly forget that weather is ever a factor.

It’s no wonder that Teton Gravity Research made not one but two genre-defining films here—Uprising and Re:session.

 

 

It’s also no wonder that fearless pro backcountry skier Josh Daiek—famous for skinning up 10,000 feet in one day—loves to take it easy at Last Frontier and let the heli do the heavy lifting. “If you are craving real raw pristine nature, Last Frontier is your place,” Daiek said. “I felt like a remote explorer here.”

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