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Old 11-14-2012, 04:00 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Heli-boarding - Snowwater

I posted this in the regional forum for Western Canada but wanted to also post here as I think General Chat gets a broader audience. I'm particularly interested in the opinions of guys like Killclimbz and Snowolf but welcome anyone's input.

(Mods: If cross-posting is against the rules please feel free to delete the post in the Regional forum.)


I'm in the early stage of planning a monumental "bucket list" type trip for the 2013/14 season - I want to do a 5 or 7 day heli-boarding trip. Based upon a recommendation of a coworker, I'm looking at Snowwater.

About me - 43 and a bit overweight. I've been snowboarding for 24 years now but almost exclusively in the mid-west region of the U.S. (Ohio, Pennsylvania). I have done a few trips to Colorado over the last few years to Breckenridge. I really do not know how to categorize my skill level as the majority of my experience has been on non-challenging mid-west resort terrain. Obviously on the terrain I have access to here in Ohio, I'd consider my skill level to be advanced but that is not exactly challenging terrain and there is no such thing as backcountry, chutes, bowls, or powder runs. The few trips out west I have not had any trouble at all with black diamond runs. That being said, I also did not hit any of the double-black summit terrain at Breckenridge.

I'd appreciate anyones suggestions or feedback on a variety of subjects:
  • Skill Level - Would I be getting in over my head with a guided heli-boarding trip in BC? Yes, I realize this is a horribly subjective question and almost impossible to answer from the internet but I'd be curious for those who have done this type of thing - what was your experience level before hand? Is logging resort-based powder days or having backcountry riding experience more or less important?
  • Recommendations - Anyone with experience with the snow water group? Alternative suggestions?
  • Board(s) - I do not have a powder specific board. My quiver includes a NS Proto CT 157, a old NS Premier 168 (circa 2002ish?), and a NS SL 155. For a heli-boarding trip of powder riding, I'm assuming the SL or the Premier so the question is would the big-mountain long/stiff Premier be the board to choose or the smaller and more agile NS SL. Or do I just buy a new powder deck?
  • Softgoods - I've never rode deep powder so the idea of a powder skirt or a jacket/pants interface has never fit into my buying considerations for coats/pants. How "air-tight" do you need to be in deep powder? Any other softgoods considerations? As a result, my jacket is one manufacturer, my pants another, and the two do not interface. Naturally the jacket has an internal powder skirt although I've never really used it.
  • Pics/Video - As this trip may be a once in a lifetime trip for me, I'd like to get some photos and video. Is a GoPro with a helmet mount the best option? Anyone know if the heli-boarding companies offer video/photo packages (didn't see it on any websites I looked at). For example when I went sky-diving I paid the extra for photos and video. Just wondering if this is customary or should I just self-video with a GoPro?
  • Conditioning - So how much harder/easier is powder riding all day for 5-7 days vs. resort riding? Anytime I've been out west, I usually would hit days 1-2 and sometimes make it to day 3 very hard (by my standards and fitness level) and need a day to recoup before finishing out the remaining day or two riding. Either way, if I do book this trip I will start a big fitness routine well in advance to make sure I'm in as best as possible shape.
  • Avalanche Training - From my coworker I understand snowwater provides ASB packs, probes, shovels, transponder, etc., along with guides for guests and at least some level of training. Any good resources to dig into before the trip like books on avalanche safety? Needless to say in Ohio we don't have avalanche safety courses.

Any comments or suggestions are welcome and thanks again!

MeanJoe
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Old 11-14-2012, 04:12 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Snowwater's base camp is like 20min from where I live and their lodge is only like an hour away. I have not been there myself, but have met some of the staff and they all seemed great. They are associated with the rescue of some people last year during an avalanche Two skiers killed in B.C. avalanche - Canada - Canoe.ca I would say if you are coming to my neck of the woods for resort, heli, or cat boarding you are in for a good god damn time my friend!

As far as other operations in the area, Baldface, Retallack, Valhalla Power Cats, Big Red Cats.

The skill level question I think is only something you can answer. I am 30, last year was my first year boarding and I have a chance to go to Baldface with work. There is no way I am not going. I'll just man up and get better as the day goes by.

The video/picture stuff I would say buy something man. If this is going to be once in a lifetime you want to be able to go back and experience it, I know I would. I would check with them as I know Baldface has a professional photographer follow you around as part of their packages. You get to review all the pictures in the lodge after dinner.

Ok, so with all that, my info is subjective to my opinion as I have no actual experience. I just get stoked when people are coming out my way to experience the awesomeness!
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Old 11-14-2012, 04:42 PM   #3 (permalink)
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atr3yu - Thanks for the comments. I did not know about the avalanche and deaths. That does give one a moment of reflection on the dangers involved.
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Old 11-14-2012, 04:48 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Any sort of rocker board is going to be decent. If you are going to splurge, you might want to consider a powder gun.

Avalanche safety. Do what your guides tell you. It's that simple. Knowing a little about what to watch for is good. Pick up and read Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper. Easy read, good info. At the very least it should help you spot Red Flags while you are out. They should supply you with the necessary safety gear.

Powder skirts. That's a personal thing. I don't like them. I've been known to cut them out if they annoy me enough. I do ride deep powder most of the time I am out and I've never though that I needed one. If you hate it when snow gets inside your outerwear, you may want to use it. It is just something I don't consider. A semi long jacket and a good belt on my pants work for me.

You might consider one of the all in Cat Trips like Baldface before going huge on a Heli. You'll get as many if not more runs and the terrain is fantastic.

Powder riding itself, can be very tiring. Especially if you are not used to it, and if your equipment is not set for it. Once you get the feel for it, it's pretty damn easy and fun.

I have no ideas about photos. Best way to go is you and your buds have good cameras for photos. For film, a gopro, Drift, the New Sony Helmet cam are great ways to go. Especially as you get comfortable with pow riding you can do the stick and such to get different fun views.

Last edited by killclimbz; 11-15-2012 at 08:19 AM.
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Old 11-15-2012, 09:24 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Killclimbz and Snowolf - Thanks for the comments and input.

The only powder I've been in is a few inbound glade runs at Breckenridge with depths up to mid-shin and pockets where it had drifted to mid-thigh. Even that really felt different, very floaty and a different weight distribution. Unfortunately, between now and the proposed trip I don't know how/where I could get any more powder experience. I am getting married in June so all vacation days and money are going to the wedding and honeymoon. I won't be able to take a trip out west this winter. My only hope is that I have co-workers in the Portland area and I am going to try to set up an excuse to get out there for a late afternoon meeting on a Friday and stretch it into a weekend trip.

So any first-timer tips on riding powder?

From what I understand, Snowwater does have cats for those days when the helicopter cannot fly. My coworker (also in Portland) who went with them said the best day of his trip was a cat day when the heli couldn't fly because they got dumped on.

A 3 or 5 day trip would be easier on the wallet but part of my thoughts were that a 7 day trip does give me more flexibility to take a day off, or alternate days, and still get a lot of vertical. I need to look into their itinerary on 5 and 7 day trips to get a better idea of how much time I'd have available. Starting a good fitness program early will also be critical for me!

I downloaded the book Killclimbz suggested on my kindle last night and started reading. I certainly have no illusions that anything I do between now and then is going to be anything more than token/intro knowledge but I'd rather have some basic knowledge on the subject than none at all and above all - be humble that Mother Nature can ruin your day in a heartbeat so pay attention and listen to the guides!

I am leaning more towards my SL at this point. My Premier is from before NS did R&C, it is a camber deck. I love my Proto but I'm thinking between the two for this type of riding the SL may be better just due to the directional nature of the board and the off-set vs. a true centered twin. Am I over-thinking the differences between the two boards in these conditions? I am a gear-whore of the first order and buying a new powder specific deck... I mean you know, if someone with lots of experience in backcountry riding on an internet message board happened to say I'd be better off with a powder board well darnit how could I NOT go buy one. It would be silly to ignore advice like that. Mmmm, new gear!

Alright, thanks again guys. Lots to think about and I have quite a bit more research to do to figure out if this is even feasible. I appreciate the input so much!

MeanJoe
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Old 11-15-2012, 09:39 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Good call on reading the book. It's covers the same basics that an avalanche level I course does. You will be the more educated because of it. At the very least, you'll have a basic understanding of what your guides are telling you and you should be able to talk some shop with them.

The SL is probably the best choice out of your quiver for sure. It is probably more than adequate actually.
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Old 11-15-2012, 10:09 AM   #7 (permalink)
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First of all.. awesome.

Secondly, I would ask if you are locked into this operator?

I'm an east coaster that is in the preliminary stages of getting plans together for something very similar. So none of this comes form experience... but plenty of day dreaming and web surfing.

I have started to lean more towards making it a cat trip. As Kill noted, you can get as much if not more vert in based upon all the research I have done.Terrain is just as awesome... cost a bit less and a bit more flexibility with weather. If you are sold on the nelson area Baldface looks absolutely amazing and the the others Atr3yu mentions all get sick reviews.

The other thing I have been looking at is getting to Revelstoke, doing some riding there to get your legs and then finishing with a cat trip with Chatter Creek or Mustang.

In terms of skill level as SnoWolf suggests its all about being honest and upfront. They will basically tailor the experience to your skill level. My goal is to get a large enough group to fill a cat.

Conditioning.. if like me, you aren't a gym guy, get a mt bike and ride as much as you can. There are also some leg exercises you can do with just an exercise ball that can really help. I have been lucky with a few of my trips to the pnw and co to hit on storms/powder and can vouch that even riding in-bounds at whistler and snowmass/highlands, your legs definitely fatigue faster in the good stuff.

Last edited by SnowRock; 11-15-2012 at 10:11 AM.
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Old 11-15-2012, 10:16 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SnowRock View Post
First of all.. awesome.

Secondly, I would ask if you are locked into this operator?

I'm an east coaster that is in the preliminary stages of getting plans together for something very similar. So none of this comes form experience... but plenty of day dreaming and web surfing.

I have started to lean more towards making it a cat trip. As Kill noted, you can get as much if not more vert in based upon all the research I have done.Terrain is just as awesome... cost a bit less and a bit more flexibility with weather. If you are sold on the nelson area Baldface looks absolutely amazing and the the others Atr3yu mentions all get sick reviews.

The other thing I have been looking at is getting to Revelstoke, doing some riding there to get your legs and then finishing with a cat trip with Chatter Creek or Mustang.

In terms of skill level as SnoWolf suggests its all about being honest and upfront. They will basically tailor the experience to your skill level. My goal is to get a large enough group to fill a cat.

Conditioning.. if like me, you aren't a gym guy, get a mt bike and ride as much as you can. There are also some leg exercises you can do with just an exercise ball that can really help.
Awesome is right. Don't tell my fiance but I'm more excited about this potential trip than our honeymoon. LOL

I am not locked in with this operator but I heard about them last year when I was talking with a co-worker and he mentioned them. They are attractive to me because they go for the boutique experience - they only have 12 guests at a time and 4 people per guide. Gourmet meals with wine pairings each night also appeals to me. I'm open to other operators but my co-worker also hinted strongly when we chatted again this week that he would also be interested in going there again. So nothing is booked or finalized, it is just where I'm leaning for now and continuing to do more research on options.

And yes, I am not a gym guy. I need to be a gym guy. Haha!
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Old 11-15-2012, 10:27 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Other legendary operators in the area are Island Lake Catskiing in Fernie. Island Lake Catskiing - Snowcat Boarding, Snow Cat Skiing in Canada

To get your feet wet though another option would be to come into Calgary and board at kpow for a couple days KPOW Fortress Mountain Cat Skiing | KPOW - Fortress Mountain CAT Skiiing

It's significantly cheaper than the alternates, and you can stay at a relatively cheap hotel in Calgary, or stay in Banff somewhere. Do a couple days there to get your legs under you, then maybe have a couple down days to check out the rockies, do the sightseeing thing, then head down to Island Lake, Baldface, Snowwater, etc.

I have ZERO experience with any of these places mind you, I'm just going off the thoughts of others on this.

I don't think you'd be in over your head as long as you're honest with the guides. Riding pure powder is technically easier than groomer/resort riding. The powder takes energy to compress under your feet, so you can actually run steeper lines on fresh powder without picking up too much speed. Cat/heli operators know that not everyone is going to be a pro, and they'll have sections of their mountains dedicated to the intermediate crowd.

Have fun I think you'll make all of us jealous!!!
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Old 11-15-2012, 11:19 AM   #10 (permalink)
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I'm 46 and have been riding for 27 years and consider myself a experienced all mtn rider, I've done the Heli and Cat trips and would do the Cat trip experience a hundred times over, before doing another over priced Heli trip, dollar for dollar you can not beat cat trips, you'll get two/three times as many runs, cheaper and a better vibe. Maybe split your trip up and do a heli trip for two days, take a days rest , then do a two/three day cat trip ?

As far as conditioning, B.C. powder especially with the wrong board in 2 feet of fresh, will kick your a$$ (compared to running groomers all day). I dont know either of the boards you're riding, but I would go with the longer one, just because of your lack of true powder riding. I'm 6'1" 200lbs and ride a Fish 160 as my powder board and a 161 Malolo as my all mtn board, both boards are insane in powder.

Bring an extra set (or 2) of goggles, not only for different lighting, but also if (when) you wipeout and your goggles are filled with powpow, you can grab another set.

I remember the first backcountry cat trip we went on and being worried about the threat of avi's, but once your there they really make you feel safe, just make to pay attention to quick avi training they'll give you, one thing that always sticks in my head is, if someone is caught in a slide, dont freak out and dont start frantically digging for your transceiver, just keep an eye on the person, the speed of the slide and when everything stops look to see if an arm, leg, ski/board is sticking out, then you wont even have to use the transceiver and waste time. It's once you make your first turns, you forget all about it, not to mention the guides know where the safest conditions are on the mtn.

If moneys not an issue, do look into some of the other B.C. operations Island Lake Lodge, Baldface, Redcats etc

But most of all enjoy your trip, it will be one of those lifetime memories.
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