Cue the Top Gun soundtrack — here’s the highlight (or Mr. Producer’s highlight, at least) of our trip to New Zealand: helicopter skiing.
Monday morning was relatively sunny with dissipating fog so he and his good friend (let’s call him Mr. X) received the “let’s go” phone call at 8:00 a.m. Like two kids on Christmas morning, they excitedly packed up our rented Toyota Prado and we all piled in to start the adventure.
After a glorious drive through the awakening sheep and hills of the Wanaka countryside, we arrived at the hangar housing the helicopters. A 15-minute safety briefing informed the skiers of the imperative dos and don’ts of heli-skiing. Wow, I wasn’t even going on the trip but I (and Mrs. X!) was feeling slightly nauseous at just seeing the copter and hearing about the potential dangers. Go ahead, call me a chicken, but I wanted Mr. Producer to scope it out and report back before I would willingly point my tips off piste and slide from the top of an untouched mountain.
The safety briefing concluded so we all moved further down the road to a flat, grassy field where the helicopters would pick up the teams after another briefing on avalanche beacons. There hadn’t been recent snow, but that doesn’t count for much in calculating the probability of an avalanche. Snow slabs can melt, break free and slide down the mountain even amidst seemingly perfect ski conditions (good reason to be a chicken).
Skis were prepped and equipment was checked. The sun, fog, and surrounding mountains made for a dramatic scene when we heard the approaching WHOP, WHOP, WHOP of the incoming helicopter. The guide stood in red, arms raised in a V, signaling the landing zone. Mr. Producer and Mr. X crouched low, ducked their heads and waited for touch down. The door swung open and one-by-one the team packed into the glassy interior. With a quick wave goodbye, the helicopter lifted from the ground and turned sharply toward the mountains. Within seconds the overwhelming rush of air and energy had evaporated like the fog into the clear blue sky. The tiny, shiny speck disappeared against the blue-white snow of the awaiting challenge.
Thanks, Mr. X, for the photos (below) captured on your epic descents! Five runs were made before bad weather cut the day a little short and lingered for the rest of our stay. Not a problem — safety, first tracks, exhilaration and some life-long memories were achieved. My day will come.