Heli skiing in Tahoe. It almost doesn't sound right. How the hell can there be heli skiing in Tahoe? My brain overflows with visions of steep spines, pillows, tight chutes, perfectly spaced trees, and stupid deep pow. California style.
There are always pros and cons to a heli operation in your area, but this one is looking pretty pro for now. The heli terrain is far enough from ski areas and backcountry ski zones in Tahoe that we won't have backcountry skier vs. heli skier competiton nor get that ridiculously annoying helicopter din that is experienced constantly in Utah and Chamonix. There will also be some advantages over Alaska heli skiing with the main one being the weather. We've all heard of or experienced the viscious pissing rain of Souhteastern Alaska. It will serioulsy hurt your feelings. Another added bonus with this Tahoe operation is that they have snowcats to back you up on no-fly days.
Pacific Crest Heli-Guides is the company who will be offering the Tahoe heli skiing. Heli skiing in Tahoe has always been a difficult option due to the prevalence of Public Wilderness Areas that do not allow helicopters to land. The terrain skied will actually be Northwest of Truckee, CA along the the Sierra Nevada's Pacific Crest. The heli operation will be using a checkerboard of private land that will add up to over 100,000 acres of skiable terrain (Squaw Valley, for example, has only 4,000 acres). This is a lot of land which should lead to an impressive variety of terrain. I know we are all anxious to see photos and videos of the topography these guys have access to.
Pacific Crest Heli-Guides also runs a heli operation in Valdez, AK called Alaska Backcountry Adventures that has over 20 years of experience at legendary Thompson Pass.
I was lucky enough to get a quick interview with Dave "Happy" Rintala, the owner of Pacific Crest Heli-Guides, this week. Here's how it went down:
Me: Where are your heli ski zones, elevations, and what does the terrain consist of?
Happy: We have access to 100,000 acres of terrain, which is four times the total terrain of all the ski areas in Tahoe combined. Most of it is between Donner Summit and the Sierra Buttes, along the Pacific Crest. Lots of 8000' landings and everything from open powder bowls to steep chutes.
Me: How much is a day for one person and how much skiing should they expect?Happy: A day costs 899.00 and includes 1.2 hours of Hobbs time to be used as they wish, either for maximum vertical or for a wide ranging tour of the longest, biggest, or steepest runs. This way the clients desires become our goals.
Me: What's the history of heli skiing in Tahoe?
Happy: It has been 40 years since heli skiing has happened in Tahoe for the general public. A couple of operations began for a couple years each, but the timing was not yet right, and they faded away.
Me: How will your snowcat operation in Tahoe will compliment the heli operation?
Happy: Our snowcat operation is known to be the best expert snowcat terrain in North America and consists of three thousand acres over seven zones. When a person books early, and there are snowcat seats available, we will reserve for them these seats so that if it is snowing on the day they were to fly, we can instantly switch to the snowcat for untracked powder.
Me: Has anyone skied where you guys are going to be skiing?
Happy: Much of the terrain we will be accessing is very remote and probably has never been skied. This season will be a pioneering experience where we will be skiing first descents regularly, and naming runs throughout the day. This is the most exciting thing to happen in the ski industry in a decade.
Damn that sounds fun. Thanks Happy.