Awesome Day with the Wasatch Powderbird Guides

| February 10, 2011

According to the Wasatch Powderbird Guides (WPG), many backcountry skiers appreciate their efforts at keeping the Wasatch backcountry safe by bombing it and enjoy the “sizzle” that a heliskiing operation brings to a mountain range.  I’m not one of them.  On Tuesday, WPG said they were going to be skiing in Mineral, Cardiff, Days, Silver, White Pine, Millcreek, Box, American Fork and Cascade – pretty much all of the central and southern Wasatch except the Alta parking lot.  To nobody’s surprise, WPG decided to concentrate their efforts on Cardiff, which is a 60 second flight from their helipad and about 40 minutes skinning.  We were one of four parties touring in the drainage and were treated to a thundering A-Star Symphony in B Flat Major for a solid three hours.

The WPG 2010/11 Operating Plan states “WPG will practice good backcountry ethics, including: (a) allowing ski mountaineers who arrive at a particular location before WPG an opportunity to ski first, and (b) avoiding, when practical, flying through passes and along ridges occupied by other backcountry users.”  At least that is what they tell the Forest Service.  The photo below shows the reality.  We are standing on a ridgeline, in plain view, especially from above and not only does WPG land on top of the nearby peak, but then WPG guide Ryan Carlson brings his entire group straight over to us and proceeds to ski the slope we had just skinned up.

Ryan Carlson bringing his group of clients over to ski the slope we had just spent 40 minutes skinning up and were preparing to ski. Thanks dude.

Two minutes later, Mike “Ole” Olson lands on the same peak and does the exact same thing.

Mike "Ole" Olson leading his ducklings to the slope we had just spent 40 minutes skinning up.

It’s hard to blame the clients too much as they usually have no idea what is going on.  We asked one of them who his guide was and he said “I don’t know the guys name.”  Another client admitted “Yeah, this area is way too small for heliskiing. Sorry.”

WPG ski tracks going straight over a skin track with two tourers on it and another skin track in the background.

WPG's calling card, which they leave a good ten times a day on peaks, valleys and everywhere in between.

The Forest Service allows WPG to “trim brush and small trees to facilitate flight safety” which WPG interprets as cutting branches off of live nearby trees to use as staffs for their survey tape markers. It’s a mystery why they can’t use tomato stakes, scraps of lumber or something else.  I guess it is just more fun, authentic and manly to cut up trees.

"Wasatch Powderbird Guides will fly in a manner that minimizes noise and visual impacts to backcountry skiers."

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Category: Commentary

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

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Sites That Link to this Post

  1. The White Blog 5 | Powder Magazine | February 22, 2011
  1. Derek says:

    WPG could probably find some good terrain in Ghandhi’s neck of the woods, vs running laps in Silver Fork.

  2. Ole says:

    Where did the comments go? Bring them back!

  3. Shawn says:

    Witnessed the carnage left by WPG skiers in Cardiff last Friday. Completely farmed from High Ivory through Georges. Saw them dropping their loads in Days after they finished off any leftovers from days before in Cardiff. Disgusting at best. Total abuse of forest service land with no regard for anyone but themselves and their bottom line. Heli does not belong in the tri canyon area…it belongs in a remote wilderness area not easily accessed (interior British Columbia or Alaska). I am not a local and have no vested interest in whether they operate or not (visit every few years).

  4. OMR says:

    Yeah, try skiing in Davis County. It’s off the beaten path so I’m use to the mountain to myself. Frederick and Howard Hollows offer great skiing yet require a 2 to 3 hour skin before the fun begins. But those dang PB Guides now fly there more than ever. Apparently “Bountiful Sessions” means anything within 15 miles of Sessions Mtn. Very maddening to hike 3 hours only summit the last rise and see my intended shot is tracked out by heli skiers. It might lessen the sting if they could link three turns with style. But no,their tracks look like schoolgirl tele turns. And, their fight plans are way too vague and cannot be taken seriously for avoidance.

  5. C Hayes says:

    I dont think its fair that the forest service makes WPG not fly on certain days, but when on the the days they are supposed to have, there is always some beater chewing granola on the LZ, making the chopper and its tax paying customers, go out of their way to a lower elevation LZ robbing them of vert they paid for with hard earned after tax dollars, as well as service fees. There are plenty of drainages that pinheads can find a line in that are no fly zones, but they are simply too lazy and would rather antagonise the very people they would call if they went for a ride!

  6. Josh says:

    I know this topic is sort of beaten to death, but I wonder how many folks on here complaining about helicopters ruining their backcountry experience feel that it is OK to bring their dogs skiing with them? I can’t speak about the Wasatch, but here in Alaska I have been bothered more from barking dogs and turds on the up-track than the occasional helicopter in the valley next me. Honestly, the parking at Tincan on the weekends looks and sounds more like a dog kennel than a trailhead. Why the double standard?

  7. Andrew says:

    Josh – The Wasatch is a watershed, so dogs aren’t allowed. We have two dogs and although I love skiing with them, I’m actually glad they aren’t allowed in the watershed areas for exactly the reasons you mentioned. In terms of heli skiing, it again is completely different than Alaska. The Wasatch is a tiny little range packed with ski resorts, roads, buildings and people, so a heli operation is very obvious.


    Sounds like someone is jealous…

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