Heli-Skiing Operation to Open in Lake Tahoe

Long absent from the Sierra Nevadas, heli-skiing returns to Lake Tahoe after a nearly forty-year absence. We spoke to the owner of the newly opened Pacific Crest Heli-Guides about filling the void.

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The heli-deprived residents of Lake Tahoe can finally rejoice…and start saving. Pacific Crest Heli-Guides in partnership with HeliTahoe have announced plans to operate a full-fledged heli-skiing operation accessing over 100,000 skiable acres along the spine of the Pacific Crest beginning December 15. Outside of a few unsuccessful heli-skiing enterprises in the early 1970’s, much of Tahoe’s potential heli-accessed terrain has remained untouched for almost four decades. We caught up with owner/operator Dave “Happy” Rintala to discuss the future of Lake Tahoe skiing.

How did the idea to open a Tahoe-based heli-skiing operation come about?
The Tahoe area offers many things to skiers, including great terrain with stable and deep snow, which allows for steeper runs than many other ski locations. The striking beauty of the area is inspirational, and the multiple ski resorts in the area and quality lodging associated with these resorts makes it a comfortable place to vacation. The only component of the best ski destination that has been missing is backcountry helicopter skiing.

Why has Tahoe been overlooked for so many years as a heli-skiing destination?
It is not that Tahoe has been overlooked as a ski destination over the years, it’s that there is an incredible amount of protected lands in the form of wilderness areas and National Parks, which are not accessible to helicopter skiing. This has limited the ability of those motivated to offer helicopter skiing over the years.

You will be operating on 100,000 acres. Tahoe’s 14 skiable resorts have a combined acreage less than 25,000 acres. Where will you be taking guests?
Our terrain is mostly northwest of Truckee along the Pacific Crest on a checkerboard of private land holdings that stretch all the way north to the Sierra Buttes. We have great steeps, tree runs, open bowls and slopes, and south facing corn runs to provide terrain for every skier and snow conditions.

What were the biggest obstacles you faced trying to bring heli-skiing back to Tahoe for the first time since the 70’s?
Acquiring appropriate terrain to operate a heli-ski operation has been the biggest challenge. Over the years, we‘ve acquired landing zones and terrain options bit by bit. Now, we have a network of lands available which allow us to operate in an efficient manner in great and varied terrain.

So I understand you also offer cat skiing. How will this combat “no-fly” days? 
Our snowcat operation is known to offer the some of the best expert terrain in North America. Our helicopter clients will have the opportunity to secure—at no additional cost—a seat in our snowcat in the event of “no-fly” weather, so they are assured a powder filled day. Our snowcat location, just minutes away from the heli operations base, makes it possible to switch from snowcat to heli if the day clears early.

So who is going to take the first runs? Have you done any recon yet?
Last season we spent a few exciting days flying our terrain, and as soon as the snow falls we’ll be out there learning our flight patterns, but those who book early in the season will be the true pioneers. Much of our terrain is remote enough that it is very unlikely that it has ever been skied, so in addition to first descents, we look forward to naming the runs. We are offering a few opening day seats to be given away at the Snowbomb ski show in the bay area. These winners, along with others who book throughout the holiday period are going to have a truly unique experience as we explore this new ski terrain together.

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