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Of Love and Helicopters

Does a resort that amasses 45 feet of crystalline pow a year and boasts more moose tracks on its slopes than ski tracks need a heliskiing op? Hell yeah.

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I’m gearing up at Eagle Pass Heliskiing headquarters, and my heart is beating like the drum machine in that Phil Collins song. Partly because an A-Star helicopter is waiting for us out back, and partly because our ski guide, JP, looks like Paul Newman—if Paul Newman could rig up a ski anchor and, I don’t know, build a shelter out of matchsticks and moss.

Our photographer, Crystal, who’s one of seven fellow journalists here to test Eddie Bauer’s new outerwear—which, at this moment, I am sweating through—catches my eye from across the room and makes a gesture that one could interpret as pumping up a bike tire, if you could pump up a bike tire with your mouth.

I’ve been heliskiing in Revy before (a mantra I repeat when my ski-writer bank account reflects my dubious career choice), and Eagle Pass is unique because it flies only small groups (four per A Star) to keep things custom and nimble. This gives clients more say in where they want to ski, and keeps skiers of similar ability levels together. This season the op opens a lodge—clients previously stayed at local hotels—replete with all the fixings. We got to tour it last night; even unfinished, it’s beautiful, with cozy yet modern décor, double-occupancy rooms (no room-sharing with strangers), and a well-stocked horseshoe bar for après.

eagle pass heliskiing in the monashees
The Monashee range makes a stunning backdrop for a heli vacation, and Eagle Pass’s permitted terrain is massive and varied, with chutes, powder fields, and even plenty of glades.Photo Credit: Crystal Sagan

We hit the final weigh-station before heading out the doors, and Scott, a salty former pro snowboarder who’s the VP of operations and lead guide here, says in a Canadian brogue, “Weather’s gonna be a mix of sun and clouds, whatever that means in the Monashees.” So far, it means soup. We walk through the fog to the heli, where JP gives us the rundown on how to open and close the heli door. My heli mates PK, Joe, and Ryan watch intently—obviously in the throes of their own bro-crushes. I wonder what the J and P stand for… Something French, I think, something sexy.

The heli lifts through the thick layer of clouds into a thinner one, but we still don’t see the sun. The pilots can’t go too high on days like these because they might not be able to go back down. We land in a tame meadow, yet we’re all nervous and gripping tight to protocol, holding down the gear as JP tosses it out of the baskets.

On every ski trip, it’s always the same—those pre-first-turn jitters shake everyone’s confidence. It doesn’t help that Eagle Pass’s backpacks have metal buckles that are impossible to clip when they get packed with snow. As I’m messing with mine, JP sidesteps to me, pulls out his big multitool to dig out the ice, and deftly, assuredly, powerfully inserts the male part into the female part. It’s like that sex scene in For Whom the Bell Tolls, when Hemingway lets loose all the adverbs he’s been restraining his whole life. “Thank you,” I say, breathily. But I’m mostly focused on trying to smell his neck.

We throw our skis in the snow and click in, which instantly makes us feel back in our element, and we follow JP to the edge of the trees. Then he casually unleashes what would become a deluge of the foulest jokes this foulmouthed ski writer has ever heard. And because every one of them could only be told in another kind of publication, the kind that comes wrapped with metallic cellophane, you will just have to take my word.

We make our first turns down the mellow forested slope, with a fairly open glade at the top. The snow is a few inches of cream on top of Styrofoam, and we follow in JP’s general direction through the trees, making our own tracks wherever we like, over small pillows and downed trees. As we near bottom the snow melts into hot pow but it’s still awesome. Our crew is strong—and I can tell JP is psyched.

eagle pass heli skiing heli pilot
If you’re going heli skiing, remember that no whining is allowed.Photo Credit: Crystal Sagan

We lap tree runs like this all day, getting progressively higher as the clouds begin to dissipate. We have three groups out here, all getting picked up and dropped off by the same heli, and the pilot operates with a synchronized efficiency that never leaves us waiting for long. We get well-oiled and operate smoothly in the transitions, no longer flinching when the heli lands just feet from our heads. We ski until our desire for beer outweighs our desire for more untracked, and head back to HQ for après.

John, a writer whose sleepy eyes and wry demeanor remind me of Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, gives us the lowdown on his day. “I almost got fired from door duty,” he says. “Our guide said it was like opening the door on a minivan. It was not like a minivan.” Meanwhile, JP has stripped down to his baselayer top, and is probably thinking the same thing we are, minus the part about how good his shoulders look: Tomorrow, we get to do it all over again.

Getting there: Eagle Pass Heliskiing is located five miles west of Revelstoke. Closest airport is Kelowna International by way of Seattle or Calgary.

Cost: Eagle Pass unveils its 12-room lodge this season, and unlike most heli lodges, each guest gets their own room and bathroom. All-inclusive lodging packages start at $4,200 for five days and include skiing, meals, safety training, and avy equipment

Beta: Skiers are guaranteed at least 10,000 feet of vertical per day. There are a maximum of 4 skiers per guided group. The longest run is 5,800 vertical feet. The heli-permit area receives 540 inches of snow annually.