Dream Jobs: Helicopter Pilot

Ken Schwabenton, helicopter pilot at Points North Heli-Adventures, spends more than 50 days a year skiing untouched Chugach powder. And that's just a side perk.

Flying with North Cascade Heli
“Well, would you look at that. I’m flyin’ a heli.”Photo credit: Keri Bascetta

Ken Schwabenton, helicopter pilot at Points North Heli-Adventures is one lucky SOB. Not only does he get to log nearly 50 days a year in untouched powder in the Chugach Range in Alaska, but it’s his job to scope sweet lines from the metal bird. Take a look at what it takes to get a job piloting a helicopter, what it’s like touching down on the top of a deserted Alaskan peak, and what the faces of his clients look like when he pulls away.

When did you first become interested in flying helicopters?

I was working in Yosemite National Park as a search and rescue technician when I was first introduced to helicopters. I had grown up flying airplanes but was just blown away by what you could do with a helicopter.

After three years of climbing in the summer and ski patrolling in the winter, I borrowed some money and went to flight school in Oakland, Calif. After flight school it is a long process of working your way up through the industry to get to a job you want.

What does it feel like to fly?

Points North Heli
A Points North Heli.File photo

The control we have on a calm wind day is so precise we can put a helicopter skid on things the skiers have a hard time climbing out on to. But when the wind starts to blow the landing zones have to get a lot bigger and there are a lot of places we cannot go.

Whare are the most interesting places you’ve flown?

The best is the mountains of Alaska. Weirdest? Dolly Wood, Tennessee, or maybe Biker Week in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Any safety precautions before you fly?

The clients go through a two-hour safety briefing before flying with us. A group that can enter and exit the helicopter safely and efficiently can go to much smaller landing zones than groups that are tripping over each other with gear and other junk blowing around.

How do you land on the top of a mountain?

What is it like lifting off away from your clients?

That’s the best part of the job, the ride down is the safest and most fun. The helicopter is in autorotation (gliding) and there is no excess weight to take away from maneuverability.

How do the clients deal when you leave them on the top of the mountain?

Not quite the job for you? Check out the rest of our Dream Jobs series.

Originally published in October 2010 for Skiing Magazine’s Website. The article has since been updated for formatting, links, and photos.