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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Alpine Helicopters' Magical Ride to Powder Skiing

Clients are flown to Chatter Creek by Alpine Helicopters Ltd. The flight departs from Golden airport in mid-afternoon and takes about 20 minutes. Two flights each of a Bell 407 and a Bell 212 are used twice a week to transfer 36 clients in and 36 out. Transfer days are Tuesdays and Fridays, breaking each week into a 3-day tour and a 4-day tour.

The flight passes north from Golden to Kinbasket Lake and Bush Arm. On cloudy days, the flight path turns east to follow Bush Arm for a short distance before turning north again and following the Chatter Creek drainage as it rises slowly to the elevation of the lodge.

In clear weather, the flight path rises as it approaches the Lake, continues straight across Bush Arm and over the high ridges that separate Chatter Creek from the Columbia Valley. It is a spectacular flight.

To locate Golden BC, look at our Where is Chatter Creek Weblog.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
Arrival at Golden airport and Alpine Helicopters. Man, are we stoked! We've been waiting for this for a year.

Guests unload at the door of the Alpine Helicopters hanger and then park in an adjacent fenced compound.

Departure time advances as the year progresses and days get longer. All guests receive the mandatory safety briefing at the same time and must arrive at the advertised time to participate in this.

The upper "Google Earth" 3d satellite image to the right shows the helicopter flight path from Golden BC to Chatter Creek. Both the direct route and the longer poor-weather route are shown. The flight path follows the Rocky Mountain Trench. The second satellite image to the right provides a closer look at Golden BC and its immediate surroundings. Click on either image to enlarge it. Make your browser window as large as possible. Use the browser's "Back" button to return.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
Alpine Helicopters' Bell "407" helicopter carries 6 passengers and is very comfortable and speedy. It's the "bird" of choice.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
Alpine Helicopters' Bell "212" helicopter ready to be rolled out. This craft carries 12 or 13 people, depending on the baggage load. It's a workhorse. Since many clients use the rental skis available at Chatter Creek, there may only be a few pairs of skis in the load.

Helicopter rollout at the Alpine Helicopters hanger in Golden. The hydraulic dolly allows one man to move either helicopter in or out of the hanger.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
Alpine Helicopters' pre-flight safety briefing. By wearing ski clothing and snow boots, baggage size is significantly reduced. The machines are not large and baggage needs to be in small flexible bags that can be pushed into knooks and crannies.

With the increase to 36 clients, everyone is now briefed together on helicopter safety. It's important that guests arrive on time so flights are not delayed by briefings being repeated for stragglers.

What the other photographer saw.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
Loaded and ready to go! In 20 minutes, we'll be at the bar in Vertebrae Lodge.

The Bell 212 on it's way to Chatter Creek. With 36 clients to transfer, each machine makes two trips to the lodge.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
Everyone's in the spirit of the day. Alpine Helicopters flies a lot of "happy campers" to and from Chatter Creek, 72 in and out each week.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
A part of the township of Golden. The Transcanada highway is seen in the background starting it's climb to the Kicking Horse Pass and Lake Louise and Banff.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
From Golden, it's a low flight for about 50 km north of Golden to Kinbasket Lake. There is often low mist and cloud over the valley, but it seems to disperse by the time the lake is reached.

Early in the flight, we pass Kicking Horse Resort. On transfer day, there is time for a full morning of skiing at KHR before the flight to Chatter Creek.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
Kinbasket Lake in the Columbia River Valley. The lake is formed by Mica Dam, , far to the north. The mountains to the west include the Adamant Range of the Selkirk Mountains. Photo credit to Paul Daniel. Here's another view of the lake and the mountains to the west.

Kinbasket Lake lies in the Rocky Mountain Trench, a linear system of valleys that extends for approximately 1600 km from northern Montana to the B.C.-Yukon border.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
Bush Arm, an extension of Kinbasket Lake that runs east into the Rocky Mountains. The Chatter Creek road rises from the northern (left hand) shore of Bush Arm, 17 km to the lodge site. In winter, the road is passable only to tracked vehicles, smowmobiles, snowcats and trucks fitted with Mattracks. Photo credit to Paul Daniel.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
Another view of Bush Arm showing the Bush River as it flows west to the Columbia Valley.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
Leaving the lake, we start to climb into the mountains..

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
Looking back, we have left Kinbasket Lake far behind. The good-weather route is direct and quick. The alternate route is longer and not as scenic. Today, the flight is worth the price of admission.

A Chatter Creek welcome
Chatter Creek partner, Dale McKnight waves to the helicopter on its way to Vertebrae Lodge. Most likely, Dale has been building a cat road nearby and has climbed the knoll to greet his new guests. A nice touch!

Dale has probably been out since early morning and will not return until after dark. He is far from the lodge and he has many kilometers of cat roads to maintain and new roads to build. New cat skiing terrain is being opened up on a regular basis. Tomorrow, we might ski here!

Thanks to Phil Fortier for this great shot.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
In clear weather, the flight passes over the ridges above Kinbasket Lake. In coudy weather, the flight stays low and follows the Chatter Creek valley.

From the helicopter, we can see a set of tracks descending from the end of a cat road. Looks like the pickup road at the bottom right corner of the photo. There are a few "turns" on that slope!

Click on the photo to enlarge it, use the browser's "Back" button to return.

Ski Tracks seen from the Helicopter
A closer look at the cat road and ski tracks in the previous photo. This is part of Chatter Creek's "Lakeview" ski zone, taken from the helicopter on the last flight of an exchange day. Looks like good skiing!

The setting sun catches another cat road and more tracks on MCO Pass . The peak to the right of the pass is visible from Vertebrae Lodge. Click on any Chatter News photo to enlarge it. Use the browser's "Back" button to return.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
About to land at Chatter Creek, we look back to see where we've come from. The flight brought us over the far ridge, close to its highest point. The distant peak in the center of the photo is adjacent to MCO Pass, that we just flew by. Click here for a better view of the land under the flight path and some of the skiing terrain in the Chatter Creek tenure.

Dale's location four photos back would be south of MCO, the far peak in the center of this photo. He was a long way from home.

Remote backcountry lodge at Chatter Creek
Vertebrae Lodge, a welcoming sight. This is an old photo of Vertebrae Lodge. Scroll down for a look at the lodge with the new Solitude Lodge extension.

Helicopter arrival at Vertebrae Lodge A new tour starts with the arrival at Vertebrae Lodge of the first helicopter from Golden. There will be four flights to shift 36 guests in and out. In a few moments, the newly arrived guests will be here in the bar toasting the start of their Chatter Creek cat skiing tour.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
As the helicopter lands, no one can see a thing, except the pilot (we like to think). The home Run at the base of Lodge Ridge is in the background.

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
The incoming passengers are off, the crew is shifting luggage and guide, Don Steedman is waiting to help departing guests load. Turnaround is just a few minutes and the machine keeps running. Heads down!

Snowcat Skiing at Chatter Creek
The first stop at Vertebrae Lodge is the bar. Jubilee and Norm have been awaiting our arrival. Jube's got her tab book ready and she's open for business. The tour has started! The departing guests said the snow is great. Huzzah! Set me up, please, Jube!

As the weather settles in and daylight dims, the last flight of the day transfers it's load. The flight must get back to Golden in the light of day, hence there can be no delay in the flight schedule. There are two "exchange days" each week, currently Tuesday and Friday.