#EOTC2 Round Up: Heli-skiing the Andes

Getting lifted with Chris Davenport and Ingrid Backstrom
A chopper from Harris Mountain Heli-Ski in Wanaka.

A chopper from Harris Mountain Heli-Ski in Wanaka.

“This isn’t a normal helicopter!” Ingrid Backstrom shouts from the seat next to me. I’m wedged between Ingrid, Chris Davenport, and Greg Harms in the back of said helicopter. I’ll have to take her word for it—responding isn’t an option. My heart’s beating on pace with the rotor blades buzzing overhead—my mind is working even faster to comprehend just what the hell I’ve gotten myself into as we swoop over the Chilean town of Farellones.

I’m onboard an AS350 B3e Helicopter headed deep into the Andes—if I don’t have a heart attack first. The B3e is a souped-up version of the B3, the same helicopter that landed on the summit of Mt. Everest in 2005. Ingrid’s right, this isn’t a normal helicopter. But nothing about this is “normal.” At least not for me. Five minutes ago I was getting a safety briefing from world-renowned heli-guide Greg Harms. Harms is a giant, standing 6’5’’ and, when combined with ski gear, weighing in around 300 pounds. He’s guided the best—from snowboarding’s Jeremy Jones to Ingrid, Chris, and more. He’s also pretty nice. When I ask the question, “How exactly do I get out?” He smiles, puts his bear paw of a hand across my shoulders and says, “Don’t worry buddy. Follow me. I got you.”

Even with Harms’s guidance I can’t help but be a little nervous. Cresting the first snow-draped wall I see an Andean library of ridges and peaks, each ridge a bookshelf containing many stories. And this library is congressional size.

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My wonder is quickly replaced by vertigo. Not only are the Andes vast and enormous, they’re steep. Our pilot, an ex-Chilean military officer dubbed “The General,” nauseatingly buzzes ridge after ridge. It’ll take me a few lifts to get over the shock and start having fun. But here, fun is an understatement.

Our first landing is at nearly 15,000 feet. After unloading I stare into the white craggy vastness. The helicopter lands so far away we can’t see it. The only way to get back to it is to descend 6,500 feet of untouched snow. Davenport drops after getting an “all-clear” from Harms. He disappears into a white infinity.

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I’m next and my knees are shaking faster than they ever have. Instantly I’m transported to my first day on skis at tiny little Marquette Mountain in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Knees rattling above a blue square run called “Snow Field.” It’s so shallow they put a terrain park on it. I watched my uncles slip away effortlessly while my pubescent voice muttered something about skiing being stupid. But I let go and the world opened up more in that moment than it ever had before. With that little lesson in mind I push off. After a few timid turns I start to let go. That dream run you want? It’s there in the Andes. We meet below at the heli, and I continue my pattern of speechlessness. I’ve just re-experienced skiing for the first time all over again.

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Each heli-drop yields more smiles and giggles. I slowly regain my speech. The best part comes with the fact that everyone involved has the same shit-eating grin plastered to their face all day.

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Heli-skiing isn’t normal. But you really should go if you have the chance. If you don’t have the chance, make the chance. It’ll shift your perspective on skiing in ways only landing on top of a peak in the middle of the wilderness can do.

For more info, visit thirdedgeheli.com

For part 2 click HERE

Stay tuned for part 4 tomorrow and the People's Choice Vote!