For anyone new to heli skiing, planning a first trip can be daunting. One of the first considerations should be whether the operator is proven to be a safe and responsible outfit. After all, even the best powder turns in the world aren’t worth risking major injury, or worse, a life. We connected with the folks at Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing, one of the longest-running operations in heli-skiing, to find out what goes on behind the scenes to ensure its guests are safe on the mountain.
Tracking the Storms and Collecting Data
Snow quality and safety is an obsession at Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing, and finding perfect powder and safe terrain takes staggering amounts of data, communication and record keeping. Keeping skiers safe in the backcountry while they enjoy their heli-skiing adventure takes a team of highly trained and dedicated guiding professionals. After close to 50-years in operation, MWHS has designed a formula for safety that is second to none.
The Most Important Part of the Day: The Guide’s Meeting
Every morning, information is recorded and shared in the guide’s meetings from approximately 20 snow profiles dug each day from within MWHS’s 1.5 million-acre tenure. Data recorded from these profiles is observed by the guiding operations as part of the 5 Step Avalanche Forecasting System which was created by Mike Wiegele in 1970.
Just in Case: On-call Physicians
Every day during the ski season, MWHS has emergency doctors on staff working as heli-ski guides and skiing with guests. This program was created to ensure that a doctor can be available anywhere in the mountains within minutes. The heli-ski resort also has a doctor’s office, well equipped with the medical gear required for any medical concerns.
The Guide Sandwich
Two guides are better than one. In 1990, MWHS started the two guides per group program. In every large grouping, a lead guide and a tail guide ensure all skiers make it off the mountain safely. A lead guide is a senior guide, which marks the path for the ski group. While a tail guide follows the skiers down the mountain and aids any member of the group, that may need assistance.
Experience Where it Counts
It takes about 10 years in the guiding field to become a lead heli-ski guide, and many of the guides have been with the operation for decades. Heli-ski guides are a unique breed: not only do they have to be strong skiers, but every guide must have intense knowledge and experience in the backcountry. All MWHS guides are certified Level 3 ski instructors and participate in training programs throughout the ski season, which include avalanche and crevasse rescue, first-aid and longline training. Mike Wiegele Heli-Resort is also home to the Canadian Ski Guide Association (CSGA) which is renowned for generating industry leading courses in backcountry safety.
Tracking Technology & Trends
MWHS has always been at the forefront of advancements in backcountry safety. Mike Wiegele was the first helicopter skiing operation in North American to begin using the Pieps beacons in 1972 (the Austrian avalanche beacon), after they were introduced to North America at an ICAR convention in Banff. Today, safety training and avalanche research is a big part of the MWHS operation. MWHS has partnered with various University including Simon Fraser University. MWHS is currently hosting Pascal Haegeli of SFU’s research team, which aims to gather information from heli-ski guides on how to manage the risk of avalanches when travelling in the backcountry.
While safety isn’t the only thing to consider when booking a heli trip, it should be the first thing. After nearly 50 years of guiding and flying, Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing’s formula for backcountry safety has its guests covered, allowing them to focus on what they signed up for—enjoying the ride.
For more info, check out https://www.wiegele.com