“I was made for exactly this kind of thing”

Posted on: Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

By George Koch

Operations manager Dale McKnight’s face lights up into a broad grin as he’s asked what it feels like to have the remarkable mission of roaming throughout a vast, untouched heli-skiing tenure to reopen an operation that only ever ran for a few years before sitting dormant for over half a decade.

We’ve been skiing and snowboarding a series of wonderful runs in, literally, perfect top-to-bottom powder and our varied group of men and women from Canada, the U.S. and Holland – many of them first-time heli-skiers – can’t believe what they’ve lucked into.

In two-thirds of a day, we’ve barely begun to appreciate the vastness of Dale’s playground, backyard, office and new world in the Cariboo Mountains. The east side of the Cariboos has had heli-skiing since the sport’s childhood in the late 60s, but the completely undeveloped, harder-to-get-to west side was one of the last places where anyone heli-skied. (And even today, there are NO snowmobiles out here.)

McKnight is a veteran backcountry operator who co-founded what became one of the industry’s most successful and famous snowcat skiing destinations. His new role has been to help revive Canada’s most remote heli-skiing tenure, now known as Silvertip Heliskiing. Judging by the impressively angulated terrain he’s guiding us through, the thigh-deep snow and everyone’s facial expressions, he seems to be doing a pretty good job.

“I can’t stand slurping runny soup out of a thermos.”

Silvertip owner Mike Binnion is savouring his kitchen’s freshly made grilled Croque Monsieur sandwiches, potato-and-leek soup and fresh garden salad around the lodge’s long dining table. Binnion eschews the heli industry’s
standard chilly standing-in-the-snow lunches for a real meal in the lodge. Since it’s only minutes’ flying time from the powder, and since the group has its own dedicated chopper, it’s a welcome luxury that costs virtually no skiing time.

High and deep in the Cariboo Mountains

Soon we’re suited and booted, the light is even better than in the morning and Dale directs pilot J.J. deep into Silvertip’s tenure, up into the alpine amidst vaulting cliffs and cirques that looks like the middle of the Rocky Mountains. We alight on a tiny pinnacle atop a long glacier and in the dreamy, honeyed mid-winter light the entire group spreads out, accelerates and rips massive turns down the endless expanse, consuming vertical like there’ll be no end of it. And for a few precious minutes, it seems just that way.

George Koch is a ski writer who has visited dozens of heli-skiing and snowcat skiing destinations.