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As The Crow Flies - A Story of Mica Heli Guides

Now, I'm not one to buy a pig in a poke, but every once in a while you get an offer you can't refuse. How about an all-inclusive heliboarding trip to a little-known place called Mica Heliskiing on the western shore of the Rocky Mountains? Throw in a crew that includes snowboarding legend Jamie Lynn (filming for Oakley's upcoming The Community Project) and you've got yourself a deal. A no-brainer, for sure.

But we all know snowboarders can be about as organized as two left feet, right? When it comes to finalizing the details of a snowboard trip, it can often be a case of the blind leading the blind. I wasn't about to miss the boat on this one, though, even after the rider roster flip-flopped like a cold fish on a hot day. I received a series of phone calls from cameraman Gabe Langlois in the months preceding this trip. It went something like this...

"Hey, Colin, it's Gabe. I'm putting a trip together to Mica Heliskiing in March with Tyler Lepore, Travis Rice, Bryan Iguchi and Jamie Lynn. Seven days of Heliboarding. Interested?"

"Does a bear shit in the woods?"

(One month later)

"Yo, Colin. Gabe here. The trip has changed a little. Iguchi and Lynn are out, but Bjorn Leines is in with Tyler and Rice. Cool?"

"As a cucumber."

(Two weeks later) "Colin, it's Gabe. I just got back from Japan. So epic, but I didn't call to brag. Jamie Lynn is back in for Mica Heli Guides, and Iguchi is still out. Bjorn might be out, so we're looking for someone else. Trevor Andrew? Kyle Clancy, maybe? Rice and Lepore are in for sure, though. We'll figure it out soon, OK?"

"A watched pot never boils, my friend."

(Two days before the trip) "OK, Bjorn can't get away from the X Games, so he's out. Kyle Clancy is a definite. So are Jamie, Tyler and Travis. Things are looking good. We'll meet you at the heli pickup at the Mica dam. Hope that's to your liking? If not, too late, fool!"

"Kosher."

(The night before the trip) "Hey Colin, it's Gabe. I was supposed to pick up Travis in Kelowna at the airport, but he got turned away by customs. He's gonna try to sort it out, but I don't think it's gonna happen. We're looking for a replacement right now. See you at Mica Heli."

"These things are sent to try us, Gabriel. Adieu."

And that's the way the cookie crumbles when you're dealing with the logistics of professional snowboarding. You've got to change horses midstream, roll with the punches, zig with the zags, and let sleeping dogs lie. I hadn't been heli-boarding in donkeys' years, so it really didn't matter who was coming. All I know was that birds of a feather flock together. So when all was said and done, we'd have a kickass crew to work with. Who am I to upset the apple cart, anyway?

When you explain to people, both inside and outside of snowboard culture, that you're going on a heliboarding trip, there are always crocodile tears. When they ask who's going and you say, "Jamie Lynn," there's a twinge of something else in there. Better to tell the truth and shame the devil, I always say. It's the type of trip most people only dream of going on, something you see in glossy magazines and fancy videos. I consider it my duty to go on these trips and have these experiences for each and every one of you. It's a sweetheart deal, my friends. Somewhat lopsided, of course, but we each benefit in our own way. My job is to bring home the bacon for all of you to see, smell and taste. I take it very seriously.

Mica Heliskiing is a first-class operation. It hung out its shingle in 2003 and quickly gained notoriety in many ski and snowboard publications. With 4,700 square kilometres of terrain to choose from, 12 to 18 metres of annual snowfall (40 to 60 feet), and only 15 percent of the terrain actually ridden, you can't ask for much more. It's a fly-in, fly-out operation based on Kinbasket Lake, about two hours north of Revelstoke. The lodge is mint, the food top-notch, and the only thing to complain about is what's on the satellite TV.

Now, a seven-day heliboarding trip isn't all fun and games: there's serious pressure. How can I get the window seat in the helicopter again? What shades should I rock? iPod or no iPod? The biggest problem, really, is the weather. Obviously, you can only fly in certain conditions (although you'd be surprised just how bad those conditions can be). It all boils down to logistics. How much heli time to burn each day? What's the weather forecast? What time is the sunset? How's the snow on the north aspects? You don't want to bet on the wrong horse and use up all your flying time because bad weather might be coming in. At the same time, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, so when it's sunny, the temptation to fly willy-nilly is tremendous. None of this matters if your budget is unlimited, but even for us media slobs, the well can run dry. Killing the goose that lays the golden egg is a great way to get yourself a front-row seat at the unemployment office.

Helicopters are a strange and fantastic invention. Watching them land and take off is one thing, but being in one while it's flying is the business. The exhilaration is almost enough to make you forget about how many dollar bills are flying out the window each second. As the crow flies is the only way to work with a helicopter. It's not a sightseeing trip; there are lines to be bagged and snow to be plundered. Every rider is different in what he sees and what he wants to ride, so keeping everyone happy can be tricky. Luckily, this trip was organized Dutch-treat style, so everyone had an equal say. However, the squeaky wheel gets the oil, so some individuals often benefit more than others.

The heliboarding experience is as much fun as it is stressful. The situation can get at sixes and sevens in no time. Flying time adds up quickly as the group decides what to ride, where to land, and where to shoot. Communication in the helicopter is limited to headsets, and only one person can speak at a time. Red herrings pop up like spawning salmon in a shallow stream. Frustrations can rise quickly, and decisions can be rushed in order to minimize flying time. If you didn't pee before takeoff, then all you want to do is land. Anywhere. Quickly. But the riders will hum and haw and ask for another pass to look at another line while you suffer in silent agony. Damned if you're not gonna throw a homie to the wolves next time he asks you to scope his landing.

Once touched down, it feels as if you can let the grass grow under your feet (and safely piss at will - downwind, of course). The calm and quiet of the mountains takes over, and everything returns too normal. It can be easy to put the cart before the horse, but with each passing hour the crew's horse sense grows. Getting down to business comes easily once boots are strapped onto boards.

Speaking of boots, Tyeson carmody had big ones to fill when he replaced Travis Rice. Fortunately Tyeson has size 13s. Gabe and I have had the pleasure of riding and filming Tyeson in the past, and we're familiar with all the feathers in his cap. The others in our group weren't as familiar with his riding, but after multiple sick lines everyone could see that this cat lands on his feet. One more than one occasion, he looked like the cat that swallowed the canary. I'm pretty sure he was just trying to impress on of his childhood riding idols, though.

The name Jamie Lynn takes many shredders to a nostalgic place in their memories - right next door to that place your dad goes when he talked about his high-school years. His contributions are priceless. The man is a living legend yet remains active through his art, graphics and soulful riding for Lib Tech snowboarders. Most pros cite him as an influence, while others just refer to him as Mr. Lynn. Sitting next to him in the heli was a thrill for each of us in our own way. The effortless style he's so famous for was evident as he made easy turns down steep faces. We weren't about to polish the apple raw and ruin it for him, but we were in the presence of someone very respected. And when he talked, we listened.

Tyler Lepore is one of the most underrated snowboarders out there. That's not to say he isn't respected or known, but few realize how good he actually is. He makes it all look like duck soup and goes whole hog with a style you can't label. His stature and off-snow personality are a stark contrast to his fast, aggressive riding.

Kyle Clancy was the first to admit he was a fish out of water in the big-mountain terrain. Mostly known for hitting big jumps and rails, Kyle didn't have itchy palms when it came to picking lines. Instead, he surveyed the landscape and made hay while the sun shined by bagging one of the best lines of the trip. There was no casting pearls before swine with this guy. He loved every minute of this Spring Break in Canada.

Downtime on a heli-boarding trip is difficult. You know what's out there, and you're dying to reach it. Every break in the clouds is a glimmer of hope that you'll get another chance to go back to the salt mines. Time is finite, and each day that passes without leaving the lodge feels like an eternity. Poker games, music ,movies, catnaps and hot tubs are all fine time-killers, but none keeps you from constantly looking out the window. Each morning for us was met with cloudy skies. This meant late starts and missing the light on the north-aspect slopes, which always have the best snow cat skiing in the spring. However, this also meant amazing conditions once the clouds parted. A stable snowpack saw new deposits several times during the week and fresh snow to cover old tracks.

The strange reality of heliboarding trips is that even though they're all the same, they're never alike. The quest for good snow, good times, adventure and fun hasn't changed since the first Neanderthal threw a couple of mammoth tusks under his hairy feet and slid down a snowy slope. Whom you travel with, where you go and what happens while you're there is always what makes a trip stand out. If you want the trip of all trips, booking a week at the Mica Heli Lodge is the way to go. It's the ultimate experience, but unfortunately it comes with the ultimate price tag. However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and the proof of the pudding is in the eating.The strange reality of snowboard trips is that even though they're all the same, they're never alike. The quest for good snow, good times, adventure and fun hasn't changed since the first Neanderthal threw a couple of mammoth tusks under his hairy feet and slid down a snowy slope. Whom you travel with, where you go and what happens while you're there is always what makes a trip stand out. If you want the trip of all trips, booking a week at the Mica Heli Lodge is the way to go. It's the ultimate experience, but unfortunately it comes with the ultimate price tag. However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

 

BY COLIN ADAIR, Snowboard Canada

 

 

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