The Little Ship That Couldn’t

| April 3, 2009
Although I barely know Marla, I wanted to make her something special for her birthday party, and what backcountry skier wouldn’t be thrilled to have his or her own A-Star helicopter?!  Marla’s party happens to coincide with the annual Heli Free Wasatch party, which celebrates the end of the Wasatch Powderbird’s season of destruction in the Wasatch.  Yes, those brave boys can now take a well deserved break from bombing the Wasatch and move onto their summer activities which probably include clubbing baby Harp seals and logging old-growth Redwood trees in National Parks.
The HMS Shithead takes shape in the special climate controlled locker.

The HMS Shithead takes shape in the special climate controlled hanger.

Oh sure, a private “ship” might seem like an extravagant gift, but heli skiing in the Wasatch is a subject that gets backcountry skiers very excited.  I know when the Powderbirds decide to share a drainage with me, I often get so excited that I jump up and down until my pants fall off and I lapse into a Tourette Syndrome type of trance and begin screaming in heli-tongues whilst slapping my butt cheeks.

Building a papier-mache pinata and drinking beer go together well as sloppy craftsmanship is essential.

Building a papier-mache pinata and drinking beer go together well as sloppy craftsmanship and lack of attention to detail is essential.

This proud little ship has a few modifications which technically make it an A-Hole instead of an A-Star.  But, just like a real Powderbirds ship, it will be filled with fat, alcohol and pork products.  Hopefully it will have a longer life span than most of the the Powderbirds pathetic little 45 second flights, but if not, it will share its bounty with the masses and can then be burned or thrown away in an eco-friendly manner that the Powderbirds would do well to emulate.

The HMS Shithead gets its first coat of paint.  The logos and stickers come next.

The HMS Shithead gets its first coat of paint. The logos and stickers come next.

Stay tuned for a potential trip report on the maiden flight of the Shithead over the weekend.


Inserting the payload. The Vodka represents the backcountry skiers - cheap and semi pure of spirit in an unbreakable container. The Slim Jim beefsticks represents the WPG clientele - nasty little cheese infused by-products wrapped in plastic through no fault of their own. The Mini Snickers represents the Forest Service response to years of complaints against the WPG. The Mini 3 Musketeers represents Tyrone, Crusty & Oily, the three swashbuckling WPG guides who are living a long gone dream.

Marla getting harassed by the helicopter - just like a day of backcountry skiing in the Wasatch, except this time the backcountry skiers get to strike back.

Oh no! The good ship Shithead has lost its main rotor... yet still keeps going! Billy using the force (and a little help from his canine pal) to line up the coup du grace.

"You shan't recover from this one darling"  Spinal Tap.

"You shan't recover from this one darling" Spinal Tap


The Shithead going up in flames during a sombre funeral pyre ceremony. So long sucker.

Help support and get a pair of pinata thumping Black Diamond Adjustable Probe Poles on sale now at Click on the photo below…

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.

Comments (29)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. KatieC says:

    Or rather, “The Little Ship that Shouldn’t?”

    Because – along the lines of the heli-ski Everest post – sure, they CAN fly here, but SHOULD they?

  2. Hacksaw says:


    Andrew, you need to look closer at an A-Star helicopter. You have a few errors in your model…

    First off, the A-Star only has three blades on the main roter hub. And only two blades on the tail roter. And the tail roter is on right side of the tailboom….


  3. Andrew says:

    Well, if it is upside the tail rotor is on the righthand side…

  4. George says:

    Nicely done – can’t tell how big it is, though, need something in the photos for scale!

  5. jared says:

    Top 10, if not Top 5, posts for sure.

  6. dr says:

    I’m honored to know that you too, Mr McLean, have mooned the powderbirds.

  7. Doug says:

    Nice Andrew. Dick would be PROUD!

  8. Marla says:

    I’m honored!! Thanks Andrew! Looking forward to you being at the Party Sunday!! This A-Star looks like ” A Star”!!! A real winner…excellent work, nicely done! :) cheers!!!

  9. Derek says:

    Can we build an “Onno” pinata when the lift goes in?

    Please don’t take this too seriously…………..;)

  10. Marla says:

    Andrew! You “made” this party! Thank you sooo much!!! I want to thank you on behalf of everyone there and everyone reading this, for some well deserved entertainment!!! Cheers to you!! :)

  11. Andrew says:

    Hi Marla – Thanks for the invitation and hosting. I’ll plan ahead more for next year and pick up some mini bottles next time I go outside of Utah.

  12. First I want to say I totally respect everything you do and have done for the Wasatch and skiing. I believe you even gave me a whippet years back. However saying all of this I just want to play devils advocate about some things. Yes the Wasatch is crowded and it bums everyone out to see the heli track lines that someone is hiking to get, its not like the Wasatch is as big as some other mtn regions in the world. But at the same time I do think heli skiing has its place in certain areas and to label all heli skiers as lazy and raping the earth is a bit overboard. Before people start ripping me a new one think about this. Its funny to me how many backcountry skiers guzzle gas in their SUV’s everyday, have green grass lawns and fly on airplanes all over the world to go ski and probably leave a bigger carbon footprint and enviromental footprint than I do. Yes I have gone on the heli in Alaska but at the same time I try to commute on my bike to work, do not have a lawn and probably leave a smaller footprint than most even realize. Just some food for thought. And yes I am a evil snowboarder.

  13. Also you can see the wasatch through my perspective at

  14. Andrew says:

    Hi Forrest – The Wasatch heli debate is more about the WPG getting special permission to use motorized transport in an area that it closed to all other motors, about bombing the backcountry, about them landing right near other touring parties and their incessant noise and about their unsafe practices. It has little to nothing to do with first tracks, except in the minds of the WPG guides, who think that is all it is about.

    BTW – Excellent photos on your site! Nice job.

  15. Bill Williams says:

    yeah the powder birds are real cowboys. A real pain in the ass until you need them…right Andrew. It was the powder birds that dug your friend out and gave him at least a chance to survive and then they flew you, your friends and your shit stained panties out of the bad situation YOU led everyone into. You really are a jackass

  16. Marla says:

    Andrew! Our pleasure! I want to thank you again for your clear insight into the Heli’s world! Also, I did get photos of You having your way with the Pinata..although I am sad to say, because I had to resort to using those disposables that night, my motor in my digital broke about 2 weeks ago.., many pics did not show up, including the final destruction you laid on that thing! Classic!! So I too will be planning much better for Next Year!

    Oh yeah…Forrest, you should show up, there will be no SUV’s there for one!!! and flying around the world , to ski? I must know the wrong people, none of that going on here! We’re backcountry skiers, boarders, mtn bikers, climbers & tree huggin’ maniacs etc…..So Come check out the “Fun” we have with this! All recycled materials were disposed of properly too, We Care! :) cheers! agreed, nice pics on your site!

    Until next year!

  17. Andrew says:

    Well Bill, that incident you mentioned is a big part of why I know for a fact that WPG is a bunch of incompetent cowboys. If they ever had a chance to prove that they could pull off a backcountry rescue and live up to their BS, that was it, yet they blew it.

  18. Bill Williams says:

    SO what was incompetent about there actions.:

    (reprint snipped but it can be read in full here:

  19. Andrew says:

    I’d be happy to elaborate on this Bill, but perhaps buried at the bottom of a blog posting on a party pinata is not the most respectful and publically accessible place to do it. Name another open forum and I’ll be there for you.

  20. Nathan says:

    I won’t shed a tear over the chopper, but is that a valuable Smith Z-Bend being endangered there? Such a classic work of pole-art should be more respected than to be used as an instrument of WPG destruction.

    I’ve got a lovely pair of “Maverick” poles that I paid a whopping $5 for that would be more up to the task. And, you’d be doing everyone around me a favor, because I’d stop cracking John McCain jokes every ten seconds.

  21. Jay says:

    I don’t think I can inprove on Kate C’s comment but I’ll try with an analogy based on another passion of mine…flyfishing for trout. The thought of another abuser of a limited natural resource makes me sick….ESPECIALLY ON PUBLIC LAND. I would feel the same way if some yahoo stinkin guide service was able to fly a chopper up to an alpine lake that I just spent 3 hours hiking up to. Remember, the whole point is to find some peace and solitude and the opportunity to catch a few fish and not be elbow to elbow with everyone else that you will find on a road accessible river or lake in Colorado or Utah. This seems to be the exact same issue regarding heli skiing in Utah. If someone wants to enjoy the National forrest and put forth the effort to ski in a pristine quiet environment, why should some guide service be allowed to exploit it through the use of a chopper? It’s absolutely wrong.

  22. Jess Carruthers says:

    With my dad working for Powderbird for 35 plus years, I think I know a little bit more about what really goes on there than you. First of all, Powderbird pays the National Forest Service to have a permit in only MULTI-USE AREAS. This means that hikers, skiers and helicopter, etc. are all allowed there. Just because you hike up and they fly up doesn’t mean that you should give them shit. They work their asses off every season to make sure that they have everything they need for a safe back country ski. Second of all, they don’t bomb the back country. They only throw charges in the canyon when Snowbird asks them to. This is helping everyone in the ski community and the locals in Little Cottonwood from avalanches and slides on the road. Our guides have over 30 years of experience guiding, flying and skiing. So it’s very clear that they know what they’re doing out there. Oh and by the way, love the Smith and North Face stickers;)

  23. Jess Carruthers says:

    Oh, and if you want to ski where there are no “fat ass” helicopter guides and no A-Star heli’s, you can go to a different ski area in the back country where helicopters are not allowed. You don’t own the back country bud.

  24. Hello Jess – I fully understand that the Wasatch is a multi-use area and that WPG pays the USFS an annual fee. For 2015, it came to $26,190.65. And, they do drop bombs in the backcountry under what WPG euphemistically calls “stability testing,” which they do on their own accord, not at the request of Snowbird. This is covered in the WPG annual Operating Supplement and is completely separate from the work they perform for UDOT. You and others may think bombing the backcountry is doing everyone a favor, but I think it is dangerous in such a tightly packed urban environment and helps create a thin, weak snowpack on slopes that they repeatedly bomb. WPG is the only one who really knows their own safety record, but judging from the Holy Toledo accident last season which sent one of their clients to the emergency room, it is not as stellar as they may claim.

    As far as giving WPG guides and clients shit, it is called “freedom of speech” and covered by the First Amendment. If you and WPG don’t like it, then don’t land so close to me that you can hear it. You’re the dudes with the 1,000hp A-Star and endless mobility.

    I’m glad to hear you love the Smith and North Face stickers. My daughters are partial to unicorns and princesses.

  25. Spoken like a true WPG guide. Thanks for the suggestion, but me and my thousands of other touring friends will ski where ever we want, especially the near-by areas which are easy to reach on skins and a 30 second flight in an A-Star. If WPG doesn’t like all of the other multiple users, endless tracks and backcountry conflicts, they can go elsewhere.

  26. Matt Kinney. says:

    In the most recent edition of the Avalanche Review,a Valdez Heli-ski guide was discussing backcountry safety when he actually was quoted as saying this..(April 2016 pg. 34) “Crowds are going to give us a problem that we don’t have a solution for. I for one don’t know how to ski safely in a situation where I don’t know if there are any people above or below me.”

  27. Thanks for the comment Matt – I’m sure in popular areas this is getting to be more and more of a problem for the heli operators, not to mention the idea of dropping bombs among these people.

  28. Christopher Douglas says:

    Boy…What an asshole you are…

  29. Why is that Christopher? For actually speaking out when an A-Star lands right on top of me out in the middle of the mountains?

%d bloggers like this: