We are on our way to Revelstoke, on the Powder Highway. We started our trip by visting the resorts of Kicking Horse, Kimberley and Fernie (part 1), after that Rossland with its Red Mountain and Big Red Cats (part 2) and now we drive on Highway 23 North towards Revelstoke.
First we pass Galena, which is also famous for Heliski, and also the place where the Highway ends in the water, or actually, a ferry. We drive down onto the ferry where we park our RV right next to a huge truck loaded with trees.
On the boat we are warmly welcomed by Maggie, an incredibly nice woman who tells us to turn off the propane and even invites us to take pictures from the bridge.
Maggie has clearly been around for a while and she told us she grew up on a fishing boat. She is yet another example of all those nice Canadians we meet everywhere. It’s amazing to see how happy she is to just welcome everyone and direct them their spot. While standing outside on an open ferry in the mud, in winter temperatures.
She also tells us that the lake we are crossing has been flooded because of a dam, and that several buildings are under water. A bit of the same idea as the lake at Tignes in France. Maggie also explains us where to get propane in Revelstoke.
About 20 minutes later we leave the ferry. The Highway just continues straight from the ferry, which was free of charge by the way.
Half an hour later we arrive in Revelstoke and follow Maggie’s directions to the RER, where we indeed can refuel with propane. The municipal Sani dump is also open, so we discharge some gray and black water again.
In Revelstoke we have booked both Heliski and Snowmobile rides, and we decide to already check in for both activities. The well-known waivers must be signed again and a deposit must be paid for the snowmobile, also called sled or sledder. At the Coast Hillcrest hotel, home of Selkirk Tangiers Heliski and located just outside Revelstoke, we eat a late lunch.
We drive into the town to explore. Revelstoke is a nice town, a lot bigger than Rossland and also a bit more commercial, but it looks super cozy. Many coffee shops, bars, restaurants and ski shops. We drink a beer at the Village Idiot, one of the most popular eateries in Revelstoke and decide to get Sushi to go and eat it in the camper, which we parked on the street just outside the city center.
The next morning it is finally time for Heliski. Amy has never done that before so she’s totally bouncing. It’s been a while for RP so he bounces just as much. The day package starts with a good breakfast at the Hillcrest with our group of nine today.
The list of names is on our table and we read the name Felix Baumgaertner on it. Eh, no way?!? (for those who don’t know Felix, that’s the guy who jumped down with a parachute from an altitude of 39 (!) km and went through the sound barrier.)
Selkirk Tangiers Heliski
We are the first, and after a while two Danish guys join. They are both ski instructors with Snowminds and 21 years old. Wow, those are young guys! Moments later, five Germans join us, including Felix, who is clearly not that Felix because they are all in their mid-twenties. In this group also two ski instructors… OMG, that’s going to be an interesting hard day for us! We are like twice their ages!
After breakfast we meet guide Alex and tailguide Thomas. We take a van to the helicopter landing platform. Before it arrives, we get a very extensive avalanche training from Alex.
He also explains what to do in case one of us falls in a tree well.
A little further on, a second group is also doing an avi course. We will share the heli with this group. Very economical because when we are skiing, they are picked up, and vice versa.
Into the Heli!
At last the heli arrives. What a sound! It’s a 1972 Bell Huey. Even though it’s completely refurbished with a new engine, the sound is still fantastic. Pilot Ryan gets out for a quick heli safety training and he explains his rules.
Safety first! The skis and airbags go in a basket on the outside of the heli and our group gets in. Let the adventure begin…
The first hop is about 15 minutes north along the Columbia River. We are dropped off on a mountain in an area which is used exclusively by Selkirk Tangiers. After unloading our skis and airbags, we squat together in a group, so that the helicopter can take off safely. It is quite impressive, to hear and see a Huey take off right above your head!
Everybody gets into their ski’s and when everyone is ready we dive into a beautiful powder field between small trees. Just like with the cat skiing in Red Mountain, the snow is of super quality! The first run is nice and mellow and everyone jumps from left to right and over small pillows. Whooping everywhere, the group is having a blast!
Second run is a higher, alpine terrain. A little ice crust at the top but nothing serious. A little further into the descent, the ice crust is completely gone and we ski great powder, the first faceshots are a fact!
The third run goes through a beautiful and steep forest with again fresh powder without any tracks. This is the big advantage of Heli-skiing: continuous ‘fresh’ terrain without tracks of other people (outside your group) and they have lots of mountains to choose from, all with different expositions, to find the best, and safest, powder.
At the end of the run we arrive at the landing site where pilot Ryan is waiting for us with the lunch containers. We get a nice warm cup of soup with various yummie sandwiches and a cuppa sweet tea to wash it all down. After half an hour we climb in the heli again in for the next hop.
Fourth run is in a more open and steeper terrain and just after the entry Amy kicks off a small slide. It was somewhere between a sluff and a slide. She could easily ski out to a higher ridge, but it is clear that the snow layer is not so stable here. Further down we ski into a fairytale forest where the powder is well preserved and the stability of the snow cover a lot better.
The fifth run goes through a beautiful forest with a perfectly even slope and enough space between the trees to ski with ease. Guide Alex explains that in the summer he is mainly busy with the terrain: clearing landing spaces, and “gliding” slopes, which means that he thins the forest so that you have enough room to ski through. It makes us feel like expert skiers, cause we just blast through the trees with ease.
After this fifth run, the question comes whether we want to do an extra run for an extra fee. That fifth run was so good that everyone collectively says yes. The sixth run goes along the same mountain, but then much further to the right, so still completely untracked.
Our legs are pretty tired after six runs, but it seems that those youngsters are in an even worse shape than we are! That’s not too bad. We are picked up for one last ride in the heli to fly back to Revelstoke
We get dropped off at the Hillcrest again, where we have a beer with the Germans, and another, and another! After a few beers, the stories get bigger and bigger and the jokes get worse. We have the greatest fun with these youngsters.
RP then gets a message from our Swedish friends Jens and Lena (from part 1) asking us where we are, because they just arrived in Revelstoke as well! We meet at the Village Idiot and the Germans join in the fun. It was one hell of a fun night with beer, wagon wheel size pizza, nachos and way too spicy chicken wings that hurt so bad we had to stop eating (really : don’t try the spicy BBQ chicken unless you’re used to an Indian Vindaloo or something) .
At last, Jens and Lena dropped us off at our camper, which was still parked at the Hillcrest around 11 am, where we fall asleep with hurting stomaches from laughing.
Great Canadian Tours – Snowmobiling
The next morning after another Starbucks breakfast, we drive to the Glacier House hotel, home of Great Canadian Tours. We are going to do the Summit Tour today, an all day tour on a sledder led by a guide. We get a helmet and sturdy boots and can borrow a suit if we want. Since Amy doesn’t have bib pants, she borrows pants and uses her own jacket, RP keeps his own suit. We meet our guide Kirk and two fellow drivers, a Swiss and a Canadian.
We get a thorough explanation about the sled, how it works and check out any damages that are already present. Then we get to try ‘m out on a field. The Swiss guy flips it almost immediately into the first corner, it turns out that you have to hang well into the corner, and at the same time accelerate with your right hand.
Riding a sled is definitely not as easy as it looks because it is powered by a large caterpillar track and therefore justs wants to go straight. Once we’ve all got a feel for our sleds, we hit the trail. Before the trail starts, we need to pass a barrier where someone checks the trail passes (included with the tour) and our transceivers.
Less than 5 minutes into the trail, Amy flies off! The sled suddenly takes a wrong track, no longer steers, and instead of braking she squeezes the throttle! A stupid mistake coming from being used to mountain bikes: if you have to correct something on the bike, you mainly squeeze your right brake, since you then use the brake on your rear wheel and keeping control.
On a sled, the throttle is located here, so her reaction is to pull a full throttle instead of braking. This happens at a very unfortunate place. The bend runs exactly over a bridge, so Amy flies off the bridge, via a pocket of soft snow into the stream. With sled! It’s a decent drop and she ends up on her back(pack) in ice water, snow and rocks.
She stands up carefully checking her limbs. Everything seems to still work. RP is of course shocked because Amy just disappeared in thin air in front of him. He almost tries to jump after her, until he heard her laughing very loud on her own stupidity.. she indicates that she is OK.
Well, sort of OK cause this was the result… bruised legs with a sore knee that was hit hard against the front of the sled on landing, and a sore thumb. Everything still moves without too much pain, so with the help of guide Kirk and a rope, she climbs back onto the path. The sled remains in the ditch, it is too heavy to lift and will be picked up later.
Once back on the track, Amy gets a full medical: she even gets a clamp on her finger that checks her vitals and the guide checks all her vertebrae. The Canadian fellow turns out to be a paramedic and writes everything down, holding her head while the check is done, as if she hadn’t just climbed out of the ditch on her own. A bit exaggerated, but this is of course North America. Better safe than sorry!
And of course she did end up falling more than 4 meters down. Fortunately, there is nothing serious going on outside of some bruises. And being quite wet from the stream.
A fresh start
The result is back to the base: Amy on the sled with the guide and of course the rest has to come too. A quick change of clothes, ibuprofen for the swelling and pain and a new sled is pulled from the garage. A bif fat 850 cc is the only one they have left and Amy wisely trades this one with RP.
RP may not have that much sled experience, but a lot of motor experience and that makes a difference with a device that can go far over 100 km/h.
Just to be sure, Amy does a round on the practice field to see if she can ride the thing with all her bruises. After everyone has asked 5 times if she is really okay to continue, this tough cookie only wants more!
There we go again. This time everything is going smoothly, and we still don’t understand how that incident at all happened, because before and after that she has great control over it. Meanwhile, the guys have a lot of respect for Amy who just keeps going like she didn’t just drop 4 meters!
After a ride on the trail we arrive at a hilly field where we can play. Partly tracked, part still soft powder, we are free to race uphill and downhill. Guide Kirk shows us how to keep the sled from rolling over on a side slope by using two legs on one side. These sleds really just want to go down the fall line!
He explains that these particular sleds are special powder sleds and they tip very easily. Reason for this is so that they are easier to control in the terrain. The consequence is that they therefore roll over quite easily and we see the Swiss guy on its side on a regular basis.
Amy also tips it when she takes a corner on a slope in the powder a bit too careful. Doesn’t hurt at all as long as you don’t try to hold it with your leg. She rolls off the overturned sled and with a little lashing on the upright ski it rolls back on his skis in no time.
RP just enjoys his fast sled and races up and down, without taking too much risk. At the end of the day he is the only one who hasn’t tipped his sled.
We leave to the next playground that is even more challenging than the previous one. Pure powder and this turns out to be a great experience with the sled, you must keep high speeds, otherwise you will get stuck. After that we have lunch: some excellently prepared sandwiches and fruit by Great Canadian Tours.
After lunch we find another playground to further sharpen our sledder skills. Meanwhile, riding from playground to playground, we have moved far into the terrain. Going back to the Glacier House is quite a ride. We are riding via the logging roads.
We’re blasting over the trails and because we’ve learned to use the sleds better and better during the day, the speeds go well over 100 km/h, this is a serious kick! At arrival we drink a beer with a snack in the Glacier House to celebrate this beautiful and eventful day.
The next morning we leave Revelstoke and its powder gnome, and start driving on Highway 1 towards Calgary: a soothing day of travel after two very strenuous days!
We drive over the famous Rogers Pass. We thought we would do some ski touring here, but given the condition of our legs, we decide to leave the skis in the camper. It is way too warm anyway. It’s thawing hard and the pass doesn’t look any good to be honest. One big puddle of melted snow combined with the sand, salt and pebbles. While driving we spray meter high sprays into the verge.
We were planning to go back to Banff for our last night in Canada. But meanwhile we find out that our German heli friends are in Kicking Horse and since that is hardly a detour for us, we quickly change our plans and decide to spend our last night in Kicking Horse. That is the great thing about camper travel: you just change your mind whenever you want!
Before we take the road up to Kicking Horse, we have to cross a train crossing. We were waiting at exactly the same spot two weeks ago as well. Fortunately, this time it only takes 5 minutes before the looooong train has passed.
In Kicking Horse, we park the camper again on the designated area and not much later our German friends arrive. During the warm reunion we decide to have dinner in restaurant Winston and again we have a very pleasant evening. The pitchers of beer keep on coming and we also have to teach the German youngsters how to drink a B52…
Final trip to Calgary
The next morning the alarm goes off at 6.30 am because we still have a long drive ahead of us to Calgary. After a shower and a hearty breakfast we continue on our way. It’s freezing cold and there’s still ice on the inside of the windows. That’s because the night was completely clear and the temperature has dropped well below -10 degrees. As soon as the sun rises it is a radiant day, perfect for travel.
We drive over several mountain passes that we actually find much nicer than the famous Rogers Pass. At 11.30 we arrive in Calgary at the Canadream site where we return our mobile holiday home. After a short inspection everything appears to be in order, only 4 dollars extra because we have driven 11 whole kilometers more than estimated in advance. And that on a total of 2000 kilometers! Must have been the detour to Kicking Horse last night!
Checking in goes smoothly at this relatively small airport, there are only 3 intercontinental flights departing this afternoon. Although our avalanche airbags are again getting the necessary attention, security goes a lot smoother than at Amsterdam Airport. We eat something at the airport and after an 8,5 hour flight we arriveat Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
After a wonderful road trip of almost 2 weeks, our journey has now come to an end. RP has been a fan of Canada since his heli-skiing adventure in 2006 and trekking through the wilds of BC, Yukon and Northwest Territories in 2011. British Columbia has now also stolen Amy’s heart because of the beautiful nature, the nice people and of course the fantastic skiing opportunities.
Strictly speaking, we had bad luck with the snow. In January 2 weeks on the road with only one half-ass powder day and some ‘mini-freshies’ is not much for this part of the world. Yet we were able to make beautiful runs. This is because the snow lasts for a very long time here. And of course the possibility to go cat skiing and heli-skiing. These operations have such large areas at their disposal that it must be impossible to not find any powder. Anyway, we will definitely come back again!
Information about heliskiing at Selkirk Tangiers (one of the few providers that also offer day packages):
Information about Revelstoke resort and the powder gnome can be found at:
Information about snowmobiling with Great Canadian can be found at:
And then this: Traveling with an avalanche airbag
If you have an avalanche airbag and need to fly to your destination, you can carry it in your checked baggage as well as cabin luggage according to the IATA rules. Either way, the canister must be unscrewed and capped and transported together with the airbag.
Which is quite strange when you take your bag as cabin luggage, as you are not even allowed to bring a jar of peanut butter on you! At Schiphol, the security guy also found it very suspicious and initially wouldn’t allow it. His eyes were on bomb alarm when he saw the canisters and he almost asked us if we were out of our mind. We showed him the IATA rules (printed in advance) and asked for the manager. His supervisor luckily did know the rules and let us go through.
Airlines even prefer that you take your airbag as cabin luggage instead of checked baggage because the pressure inside the cabin of the aircraft is better regulated than in the hold and they therefore expect less problems with the canister, which, after all, is also under pressure.
Most important is that the airbag has been pre-registered and accepted by the airline. This was also checked, both at Schiphol and in Calgary.
Unfortunately, this procedure does not work on flights to the US. Canisters are not allowed there at all so you will have to arrange something on your destination.
Little bit of a disclaimer: We both use the Mammut Snowpulse triggered by wire. What the rules are for an ABS, which is blown via a small triggered explosion, we don’t know.