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Mike Wiegele, visionary, humanitarian, and founder of Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing, has died at 82.
Based in Blue River, B.C., Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing has been in operation for over five decades. The outfit is the main employer for the 280-person town in the North Thompson River Valley, between the Cariboo and Monashee mountain ranges. The Wiegele family has generously supported the local elementary school and is known for taking local children and their families skiing.
Wiegele not only ushered in a new era of heli-skiing in Canada, he also launched the Powder 8 World Championships in 1978 and was part of bringing “fat ski” technology to market. He worked to establish many of the heli industry safety standards and worked with the University of Calgary to develop their avalanche research program. In 1990, Wiegele established the Canadian Ski Guides Association. Wiegele attended morning guide meetings at his operation well into his 80s.
Austrian-born, Wiegele emigrated to Canada in 1959 at the age of 20 to chase his ski dreams. Arriving with no English, he first found work as a carpenter before signing on as a ski instructor at Mont Tremblant and Sugar Bowl. Shortly after, he became the director of the Lake Louise Ski School, where he coached six National Team athletes. It was there in 1967 that he met and married Bonnie Shubin.
In 1976, the pair started what would become the Banff Alpine Racers program, which grew from seven young racers to 500 over the first five years.
In 1970, Weigele offered his first heli-skiing trip in Valemount, B.C. No guests arrived.
“I thought he was a little bit cuckoo,” says his wife Bonnie in a story shared on the company’s website. “He was always a bit of a dreamer, and it was his dream to ski in these mountains.”
In 2019, his heli-skiing operation celebrated its 50th anniversary. During his lifetime, he was awarded numerous accolades, including The Bravery Award from the Governor-General of Canada; The Marshall Award for Excellence from Canada West Ski Areas Association for outstanding contribution to the betterment of the ski industry; the Honour Roll of Canadian Skiing for outstanding contributions to the growth and development of skiing in Canada; Hall of Fame from the Canadian Ski Instructor Alliance; Banff Sports Hall of Fame; Austria’s prestigious Goldenes Verdienstzeichen Gold Medal. In 2019, Thompson Rivers University awarded Wiegele an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree.
Weigele’s motto, from the beginning, was always: “Let’s Go Skiing.”
Below you can watch the short film, “Call Me Crazy: The Legend of Mike Wiegele,” released by the operation in 2019. The film follows Wiegele’s journey from his humble roots in rural Austria to guiding high-profile celebrities and skiers through deep Canadian powder.