words: Ben Osborne photos:: courtesy of Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing
The Most Interesting Heli-Skiing Operation In The World
First, Mike Wiegele is a powder skier. Second? He is an innovator, an explorer, and a businessman. Purveyors of powder for over fifty years, Mike Wiegele Heli Skiing out of Blue River, British Columbia has perfected the formula due to one man’s direction and ambition.
Look on the map— you’ll notice something about the small town of Blue River: it’s in the middle of nowhere. When Hans Gmoser, Mike Wiegele, and Jim McConkey and company set out in 1965, that’s exactly what they were looking for—nowhere.
Mike, originally from Austria, was infatuated with the mountains of Western Canada, and had found a kindred spirit in Hans Gmoser and Jim McConkey. Throughout the 1960’s, the trio, along with a few others embarked on ambitious traverses across the Bugaboos, and spent a great deal of time exploring the Valemount/Cariboos area. It was after their trip in 1965, during which the group had originally planned to traverse from the Bugaboos to Rogers pass, that the opportunities for guiding first began to dawn upon Hans, who applied for a lease to guide in the Bugaboos. Shortly thereafter, Mike started to develop his own plans.
Follow The Snowy Rooftops
If you want to know how much snow has fallen the night before, a good indication of where to look is on the top of your car. After spending plenty of time guiding and exploring the Cariboo Mountains Range in the late 60’s, Mike Wiegele couldn’t help but notice the cars coming up the highway to the town of Valemount piled high with snow.
So, he went and had a look in the small logging town of Blue River, BC. He connected with locals who had been taking snow measurements and found the consistency and quality of the snow to be unlike anywhere else he had seen and brought his business down to the small town.
He began construction on the current resort in 1974, and hasn’t looked back since, with the heli-ski tenure reaching 1.5 million acres as of 2018. In between then and now? Well, they had a whole lot of fun.
A True Pioneer: The Fat Ski And Avalanche Safety
While most would credit CMH’s Hans Gmoser as being the pioneer of modern day heli-skiing, there was plenty of history that went down at Mike Wiegeles’ operation.
As Mike’s operation began to grow and he became financially stable, he had the opportunity to help revolutionize the sport that he loved so much. Mike Wiegele was the the first heli-operation to use the Pieps Avalanche Beacons when they were released in 1972, and Mike spent a great deal of time and energy developing safety methods, forecasting systems, and snow stability information that are now used at heli-skiing operations all over the world.
In addition to dedicating his time and research to avalanche safety, Mike Wiegele also hosted the first courses for the Canadian Ski Guide Association, which is still around today.
Not only did Mike help pioneer the safety methods surrounding the timeless joy of powder skiing, he also helped make it more fun. Before Shane McConkey slapped a pair of water-skis to his feet and skied in Alaska, Atomic and Mike Wiegele were working together to develop the powder ski. As legend has it, Mike offered his idea for a fat ski to Atomic Ski’s (who he worked closely with at the time) and the rest is history—Rupert Hubert, the ski developer at the time, worked night shifts designing the ski, and sent samples to Blue River for Mike and his team to test. To say they had a large impact on the development of the powder ski would certainly be an understatement.
Now, the powder ski is a staple of the ski industry, and more than necessary if you book a trip up to Blue River to ski with Mike Wiegele. While the powder ski and avalanche forecasting techniques are physical contributions, the true contribution Mike Wiegele gave us is his passion for adventure, and his bold innovations that make the heli-ski world, and the greater ski industry what it is today.
Go For A Visit
To Visit Mike Wiegele is not just a heli-skiing vacation, but a trip through the annals of powder skiing’s history, a visit to some of the most amazing mountains in the world, and most importantly, a unique family-style heli-skiing experience.
For more information on booking and trip types, head over to www.wiegele.com