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Heli-Skiiing Mt. Baker

What’s on your bucket list? North Cascades Heli-Skiing should be.

By Pat Grubb 
Photo by Grant Gunderson

Up north in the middle of Washington in the Methow Valley sits the little town of Mazama, population 230. You get there on Highway 20 but only from the south; the northern end closes every year after the snow begins to fall. And fall it does. Which is why every winter those looking for a premiere ski experience make the trek to Mazama to hop aboard a helicopter to some of the best skiing and riding that can be found anywhere.

North Cascades Heli-Ski has been taking riders into the heart of the American Alps since 1988. Their permit area spreads over 300,000 incredible acres of mountain runs towering between 7,000 to 9,000 feet high. Piloting the copter is Seamus O’Daimhin, who has over 14,000 hours of flight time and drops off powder hounds onto mountains they had only dreamt about.

The company offers various downhill programs for one or three days or exclusive charters. They also offer heli-assisted backcountry touring, again, one or three days. The operation guarantees that skiers will get seven runs each day; depending upon conditions, you’ll get at least 12,000 vertical feet – and sometimes more – which will have you looking for a place to lie down at the end of the day.

Trips run from January 19 through March 24. Typically, reservations are made in groups of four riders although they can sometimes accommodate less. A three-day downhill trip costs $2,907 per person; a one-day is $1,060.

A three-day touring program is $1,077 per person or $430 for one-day outings. They also offer three- or four-day backcountry yurt programs for $1,050 and $1,157, respectively. The yurt trips fill up fast; about half the scheduled trips are already booked for 2013.

Who should go on one of these trips? You should be, at a minimum, an advanced intermediate or better skier who is comfortable skiing blue and black runs under all conditions in a resort. You should also be as fit as possible – seven runs and 12,000 feet of vertical every day for three days requires a lot of stamina. Remember, you’ll be going out with just three other skiers and a guide – you won’t want to be the slowest one in the group.

Company owner Paul Butler says, “The thing that separates us from other ski areas is we operate between 6,000 and 9,000 feet. When it’s raining somewhere else, it’s snowing here.”

For more information, call 800/494-HELI (4354) or visit them at heli-ski.com. X