The Steep And Exhilarating Learning Curve Of Skiing Whistler

heli-skiing in Whistler

Thanks to Columbia Sportswear, I was able to experience yet another trip of a lifetime, this time to Whistler, BC. With the aim of testing the new Columbia FW 13/14 ski and snowboard gear, we amassed close to 60K feet of vertical over three days, all based out of the gorgeous Fairmont Chateau Whistler. No wonder my knees are complaining this week.

The first day was spent with the great folks at Extremely Canadian as Day 1 of their two day Steep Skiing Clinic. Extremely Canadian takes a unique approach to teaching by pushing you out of your comfort zone in order to get faster results. The coaches mix a healthy dose of technical instruction, steep skiing tactics, and local knowledge to provide you with an insider experience you just can’t get elsewhere, not to mention lift line priority and secret powder stashes.

Skiers and snowboarders are placed in small groups of similar ability, an optimal setup for honing your steep skiing skills. As I was the “special needs” skier in this extremely talented group, I was fortunate to be assigned guide Steve Mayer all to myself, although Scott was kind enough to join me for the morning.

Completely new to the steeps, Steve taught me some tricks and tools that I can use to build on my future off piste adventures: anchoring, buttering, exaggerated up and down movement, tuck in the hips, and mandatory straight zones. By the end of the day, I felt like I was getting the hang of it and Steve was very happy with my progress.

The second day was spent heli-skiing with Coast Range Heliskiing, an exclusive small group operation. Everyone was completely giddy as we drove to Pemberton and learned the weather would be on our side for the day. After a thorough safety overview on how to get in and out of the helicopter and much welcomed practice with our avalanche beacons, we split into groups of 4 and headed to our rotored ride for the day.

Heli-Skiing Whistler

Nothing can beat the feeling of heli-skiing- the huge rush of adrenaline when you first take off and are quickly unloaded on a mountain top in the middle of nowhere, the noise and blast of snow in your face as the helicopter takes off, then just as quickly as you started, you are left in utter silence, with the most incredible views as far as the eye can see.

As a complete newbie to deep powder skiing, I took a couple of turns on our initial run and instantly fell face first into waist deep snow. I quickly found out it is difficult and utterly exhausting to get yourself up and out from under all that snow. With a couple of pointers from my patient and kind heli mates (think “screw don’t poo”, weight over your toes, keep arms out front, wider turns) I was able to get in the rhythm and quickly came to understand why people will pay anything for this experience. Seven runs and over 20,000 feet of vertical, including a lunch of hot soup, sweet tea, sandwiches, and cookies on the glacier, made for an absolutely incredible day I will never forget.

As Brendan Leonard of semi-rad so eloquently wrote last week, I may have spent more time in the snow than on it during the day, completely frustrated at times (tree skiing is my absolute nemesis), but I will always remember the feeling of those brief moments where I was relaxed and in the flow. I would put up with all the epic crashes again just to experience those few moments of bliss. It is these small instances that make for a happy life.

The purpose of the trip was to test out Columbia’s Fall/Winter 13/14 ski and snowboard gear, where I was left with a great first impression. Below you will find a list of some of the gear we tried, with complete reviews to follow later.

THE GEAR

Columbia Millenium Blur Jacket

Millennium Blur Jacket: This insulated ski jacket is made from an Omni-Heat Reflective liner and Omni-Tech waterproof breathable shell outer. A ski pass pocket, internal media and goggle pockets, plus multiple other secure pockets ensure you can carry everything you need for a day on the slopes. The removable powder skirt, thumb holes, and drawcord hem help keep snow out of your jacket when you are snorkeling through the freshies. MSRP $330

Columbia Millennium Blur Pant

Millennium Blur Pant: Insulated with an Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective lining and fully seam sealed Omni-Tech waterproof/breathable outer shell, these ultra comfortable ski pants feature leg vents, internal gaiters, and reinforced cuff guards. MSRP $200

Columbia Zircon Ridge Glove

Kiry Neve Glove: An Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective lining and OutDry waterproof construction ensure your hands stay dry and warm in even the deepest of snow. The Pittards water-resistant goatskin leather palm gives you better grip on your poles, while the thumb nose wipe comes in handy on those cold days. MSRP $95

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  1. Whoa, Amy, what a trip! I would have been in the special needs class too. I’ve only skied in deep powder twice and thought it was super fun each time though (after skinning for hours for a 20-minute descent). Anyways. I’m so glad you had a great trip and got to test out some new gear!

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