The Show Must Go On: Mike Wiegele

Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing has been featured in countless WME films over the years, and Mike himself also skied for Warren’s camera back in the day.

Like Warren, Mike Wiegele was a pioneer of the ski industry, being one of the first to explore heli-assisted backcountry skiing in B.C. and founding Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing.

Mike Wiegele: I actually came to Canada to explore the mountains for the potential of developing some kind of backcountry ski area. I ran a ski school at Lake Louise, then made trips into the mountains to explore. The mountains were big, and all the valleys had creeks but no bridges. A backcountry trip could take ages. A big trip could turn into a week-long journey. It would take one day to hike into the valley, and at least one day to climb up the mountain. Then you ski a day or two when you’re up there. But then you had to walk out again. I loved the mountains, and there’s no question that I loved skiing, so I was easily motivated. But the trip back down through the valley took a while. 

One time I was up on top of the mountain in the Cariboos on a beautiful day after a strenuous trip up. I was looking around up there and dreaming away. And I thought, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if a helicopter flew you in.’ I had taken a short flight in the Cariboos previously with my friend Hans Gmoser, and on that trip, I realized: that’s the best way to ski in these mountains, with a helicopter.

I first met Warren in 1963, I believe, when I was working at Sugar Bowl in California. He came up wanting to get some skiing shots. It was my first year at the ski school, so everyone said, ‘Here, take this guy. He’s a good skier.’ And of course, I was very excited to be asked, it was an honor to ski for Warren.

At the time, Warren was the filmmaker. There were others, like Dick Barrymore, but Warren was the person you wanted to ski for. When I first skied for him, the other skiers told me I would fall. I thought, no way, I’m one of the best skiers here. Sure enough, I crashed on the first run. I was often told I had more guts than brains. But when you survive a crash, and you realize you’re fine, you just continue. And I didn’t crash in front of Warren again.

Originally published in the November 2018 issue of SKI Magazine.