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Sport: Automatic First Down

Kelley McMillan

Staring down a snow-choked chute that has never been skied, I take a shallow breath and shift my eyes to the horizon. All around me, craggy Canadian Rocky peaks pierce the cloudless sky; in the distance, British Columbia’s Kinbasket River slithers through the valley. Looking down again at the untouched powder below, I see my guide, a former ski racer who has performed all requisite avalanche precautions, waving encouragingly from the bottom of the run.

Skiing a first descent is an honor usually reserved for professional ski mountaineers, not recreational skiers like me. But clients of Mica Heli-Skiing, an operator based 90 minutes outside of Revelstoke, B.C., have opportunities aplenty: Of the 9-year-old company’s 250,000 skiable acres, 100,000 acres remain largely unexplored.

Mica’s clients have the option of joining a small group trip or reserving a dedicated Bell 407 helicopter for private use (priced from $55,385 per four-person group for four days, all-inclusive). Complete with two certified guides and a pilot, Mica’s Private tour offers more flexibility and greater access to the largely unskied sections than do the company’s Classic and Premium tour options. "First descent runs are possible on every Private tour, and will be for years to come," says company president Paul Norrie.

On average, 40 to 60 feet of British Columbia powder falls annually on Mica’s property, which is located on the western side of the Rockies. The skiable terrain ranges from steep faces and alpine bowls to low-angle glaciers and forested glades.

The run I am standing over, set well above the timberline at 8,000 feet, is an intermediate-level chute. Once I push off from the peak, I quickly find my rhythm in the powder. White plumes of snow spray again and again in my wake as I bob out of one turn and into the next. I soon reach the bottom, where my guide greets me with a smile. "What are you going to call it, eh?" he asks.

Indeed, with so many first descents at its disposal, Mica offers several guests the chance to name some of their runs. And there is no shortage of runs on a Mica trip: We pack in a walloping 24,000 vertical feet on this day, which is the norm here but far above industry averages of about 14,000 feet.

Following our day on the slopes, we fly back to Mica’s seven-bedroom, helicopter-access-only log homestead, where freshly made cookies, platters of bruschetta, and après-ski cocktails await. The lodge, which was upgraded in 2010 with 1,000-thread-count sheets and a new kitchen, is set on a plateau about a half-mile above Kinbasket Lake. (A second, more luxurious lodge with 14 bedrooms is scheduled to open for the 2012–13 season.)

Before diving into cocktail hour—or making our way to the masseuse and two hot tubs—my fellow skiers and I crowd around the bulletin board, which posts each person’s daily vertical and what runs they skied. I find my tally and, next to it, the entry for my newly anointed run. Named after my mother, who taught me to ski, Lolly’s Line is now on the map for future Mica clients to try.

 

Mica Heli-Skiing,250.837.6191, www.micaheli.com

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